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Weekly Press Article: “RIVER TO RIVER” in Philadelphia and Beyond

April 18, 2011

“RIVER TO RIVER” in Philadelphia and Beyond:

Over 35,000 Speak Up Against Fracking in Delaware River Basin

April 18, 2011 * Iris Marie Bloom, Community Contributor

Water and air connect people faster than fractures and fissures fragment them. At least, that appears to be the hope embodied by “River to River,” a new Philadelphia grassroots group organizing a march this Saturday. “We want to protect our water and air from fracking – not just the Schuylkill and Delaware, but throughout the state and region,” said Corina Delman, one of the march’s organizers.

Beginning at 1pm with a “feeder march” from West Philadelphia (leaving from the Rotunda, near the southwest corner of 40th and Walnut), “River to River” will gather strength at Schuylkill River Park on the east side of Walnut Street Bridge, departing at 2 pm for Love Park. A high school marching band, songsters, faith-based leaders, puppets and colorful props will energize the gathering at Love Park from 3 to 3:30 pm, including speakers and a bit of drama. The crew will then march to Shadfest at Penn Treaty Park, with a spot on the stage at 4:30 pm.

“River to River” follows fast on the heels of a big success by community and environmental justice groups. Last week 17 organizations, including the local group Protecting Our Waters, delivered over 35,000 comments to the Delaware River Basin Commission, a record-breaking – literally staggering, because group leaders struggled to bear the weight of the letters they carried to the Commission last week – number of public comments. Erika Staaf of PennEnvironment, who coordinated the groups’ press conference, summed up their message in four words: “don’t drill the Delaware,” a river system supplying drinking water to 15 million people.

Philadelphia gears up for its “River to River” march against a backdrop of statewide Marcellus Shale gas drilling news which is “beyond shocking,” according to seasoned watershed professional and former state legislator Gerald Kaufman. Kaufman referred in particular to Governor Corbett’s decision to appoint as “permit expeditor” C. Alan Walker, a wealthy coal magnate who refused for years to comply with state orders requiring him to replace drinking water for families whose water wells were destroyed by acid mine drainage from his companies. Walker’s power to avoid consequences for his companies’ misbehavior was legendary throughout the reign of his friend Governor Thornburgh and then Governor Ridge. Propublica’s investigative reporter, Abrahm Lustgarten, published a major expose about Walker on April 11th. Walker claimed in 2003 that his companies could no longer treat waste they had created; he walked away after contributing only $3.8 million towards the state of Pennsylvania’s $7.2 million cleanup bill for his companies’ pollution. The remainder was supposed to be paid for in coal – but the mine is flooded and abandoned. His personal wealth untouched by his companies’ “inability” to pay for pollution cleanup, Walker – a wealthy Republican Party donor – gave nearly $184,000 in political donations to Tom Corbett since 2004.

This is the man whom Governor Corbett has now appointed to make sure that permits, such as Marcellus Shale gas drilling permits, are expedited – “as if they are not already being shoved through at dangerous, breakneck speed,” commented Kaufman.

One day after the Walker story broke, CBS News reported that oil and gas industry spills “happen all the time.” A six-month investigation found at least 6,500 spills, leaks, fires or explosions nationwide at wells and pipelines in 2010. One of the impacted individuals highlighted was Truman Burnett of Bradford County, PA. A Marcellus Shale gas drilling operation killed all life in the pond at his home, including the fish and wood ducks.

That same day, April 12, award-winning photographer Nina Berman published “They Are Afraid Their House Could Blow Up: Meet the Families Whose Lives Have Been Ruined by Gas Drilling” (Alternet). Berman reports that several families along Paradise Road in Bradford County have had methane migrate into their drinking water, causing hazardous, potentially explosive conditions in their homes. Berman also reports on hydrofracking-related health impacts experienced by, among others, Carl Stiles of Bradford County. By doctor’s order, Stiles and his fiancé were forced to move from their home near Sugar Run, not far from where the Susquehanna River has been bubbling with methane gas continuously since August 2010. “Their blood tests showed high levels of barium and their home had radon levels three times the limit,” reports Berman. Stiles, 45, experienced tremors, constant headaches, and numbness; both he and his fiancé had heart attack symptoms. At one point “a hole erupted in their front yard and spewed out a mysterious froth,” Berman reports. Two children living nearby are suffering similar symptoms.

The day after Berman’s story broke, an AP story revealed that Pennsylvania DEP regulators spend as little as 35 minutes examining Marcellus Shale drilling permits. Each permit represents a $5 million industrial site; well pads usually require paving over 5 or more acres of farmland or forest. The AP story, “PA accused of rubber-stamping gas permits,” emerged from depositions as part of a lawsuit by Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Damascus Citizens for Sustainability regarding an exploratory well less than half a mile from the Delaware River. Depositions from four DEP staffers also revealed that regulators have no idea what the law requires them to do to protect “high quality” streams, and that they don’t consider cumulative impacts of wide-scale gas well development.

Finally, on Saturday April 16th, New York Times star reporter Ian Urbina reported that a Congressional inquiry into hydrofracking has found that oil and gas companies injected hundreds of millions of gallons of hazardous or carcinogenic chemicals into wells drilled in more than 13 states from 2005 to 2009. The investigation also found that 14 of the nation’s most active hydraulic fracturing companies “used 866 million gallons of hydraulic fracturing products – not including water. More than 650 of these products contained chemicals that are known or possible human carcinogens…. or are listed as hazardous air pollutants,” according to the report.

Bringing it back home, “River to River” march organizer Geoff Belforti explained why the route ends at Penn Treat Park’s Shad festival. “Shadfest celebrates an increasingly healthy Delaware River in the very early stages of recovery; we want to keep that recovery, not threaten it with radioactive toxic waste from fracking!” said Belforti. “We want to protect our neighbors, too – the closer you are to gas drilling, the more the air, water and soil impacts from fracking endanger your health.” About 18,000 to 30,000 gas wells would be fracked in the Delaware River watershed beginning this fall unless the current moratorium is extended.

March info and background info: protectingourwaters.com

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