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Point of view: Real Reporting, and “Shale Gas Outrage”

August 30, 2011

Below is the original transcript of an article by Iris Marie Bloom published in the University City Review

Wed, Aug 24, 2011

On Wednesday, September 7th from 12 noon to 2 pm, on Arch Street between Broad and 13th Streets, a major rally called “Shale Gas Outrage” will take place in Philadelphia. The rest of this article underlines why you might want to be there.

My inbox is full of these personal stories about fracking (high-volume gas drilling) impacts, which never seem to get out to the rest of the public. Who knows why the larger newspapers seem to be asleep at the wheel? It’s hard to understand, but you, privileged readers, can say you found out first.

On August 20th, the small-town paper Butler Eagle reported yet another major incident of groundwater contamination from drilling and fracking operations in the Marcellus Shale, impacting at least a dozen families in Connoquenessing Township, in northwestern PA. “Two homeowners from Connoquenessing Woodlands… say their well water smelled horribly, ran black or came from the tap in the form of foam, which they blame on a nearby Rex Energy gas well off Woodlands Road.” The Eagle writer, Paula Grubbs, reports that the families “told stories of black, smelly water, foam spewing from every tap and in the toilet bowl, severe diarrhea and vomiting, and purple-stained dishes.” At least a dozen families can no longer drink or use their water at all.

The next day, August 21st, Susquehanna County resident Rebecca Roter called to describe a terrible new methane contamination incident in Susquehanna County, not far from where she lives. “I had to cry,” the usually levelheaded, data-oriented Rebecca told me, “before I could call DEP.” The Protecting Our Waters website will post an update about this incident at protectingourwaters.com.

Last month I interviewed Pat Farnelli of Dimock, PA (where an entire aquifer was contaminated by Cabot Oil and Gas beginning as early as 2008) who described vomiting so strenuously after drinking her once-clear tap water that she had to go on all fours. I also interviewed Carl and Judy Stiles, formerly of Sugar Run, Bradford County, PA where Chesapeake Energy is drilling heavily. They described terrible health symptoms including severe abdominal pain, and said they witnessed foam coming directly from the ground near their former home after Chesapeake began drilling and fracking nearby.

Today someone emailed me the account of Darrell Smitsky, from southwestern PA, near Hickory: “During the fracking of one of the Marcellus wells near Darrell’s house, a next door neighbor reported foam coming up out of the ground in his field. Around the same time, an abandoned well from the early 1900s, located just up the valley from Darrell and his neighbor, started spewing fluids…”

In other words, the industry – in Darrell’s case Range Resources – does not know what they are doing, and people like Darrell Smitsky and his goats pay the price. There are tens of thousands of abandoned, unplugged, un-mapped old wells in Pennsylvania, which is one of the huge risk factors nobody talks about. This problem alone, argues for a moratorium statewide right now to protect streams, rivers, animals’ lives and human health.

“Darrell Smitsky had eight healthy goats as Marcellus drilling got underway around him, but over a period of several months, five of the goats died, dropping off one by one. Darrell recalls that tragic time, ‘It was like their back legs became paralyzed, and I would have to carry them into the barn…’”

His family has occupied their rural home for more than four decades, and prior to Marcellus drilling, their well water was famous for its excellent quality and taste. There are now 17 Marcellus gas wells in the one-square mile area surrounding Darrell’s home, according to his personal account posted on the informative website “Marcellus-shale.us” and shared widely in emails to activists on August 22nd. Acrilonitrate, among other alarming contaminants, showed up in his water tests, and although he stopped drinking his water as soon as it went bad, photos show a rash on his leg which is similar to rashes experienced by other shale gas drilling victims who shower in their tap water.

“The fish in [Darrell’s] small backyard pond began exhibiting strange symptoms as well, with their scales breaking down and becoming translucent, prior to death….” Darrell’s account reads.

On September 7th and 8th the Marcellus Shale gas drilling industry is coming en masse to Philadelphia, in southeastern Pennsylvania – the only region of the state where human beings and animals have not yet been poisoned by gas drilling spills, accidents, emissions, methane migration and all the other fracking hazards. The industry-wide conference at Philadelphia’s Convention Center is called “Shale Gas Insight” – meaning insight into how to minimize regulation, maximize good PR for the industry, and attack the character of those who prioritize clean air, water, earth, and human health. No less than three PA governors will warmly address the frackers: former governor Ridge, who has been paid $900,000 as an industry lobbyist for over a year now; former governor Rendell, who ushered in the industry to begin with, urging his DEP to approve thousands of fracking permits in a wildly un-regulated situation without a single cumulative impact study in the state; and governor Corbett, who has been bankrolled by Chesapeake Energy billionaire CEO Aubrey McClendon since 1994 and who received over $1.2 million from the industry to help him win office. Corbett, whose job it once was to attract more waste to Pennsylvania’s landfills from other states, took office this past January 18th and has been a very good friend to the industry indeed. He even issued a directive that DEP inspectors could no longer issue Notices of Violation in the field to shale gas drillers without first getting political approval. A storm of protest forced the governor to back down on that, but he’s eagerly urging fracking in state forests, university campuses, and even prison grounds, pushing an extreme far-right agenda to help his industry friends with all due speed. He never pronounces the words “renewable” and “energy” together.

On September 7th in Philadelphia, from noon to 2 pm, on Arch Street between Broad and 13th Streets, the Shale Gas Outrage rally will feature speakers willing to stand up for clean air, water, earth and human health, and to tell it like it is. Philadelphia City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown and Councilman Curtis Jones; filmmaker Josh Fox; Al Appleton, former Commissioner of the New York Water and Sewer System, and Pittsburgh City Councilman Doug Shields are speaking, along with hilarious Philadelphia comedian Beth Nixon and spiritual singer Reverend Rhetta Morgan. Impacted residents will speak and The Band Called Fuse will lift spirits. Join us as we go toe to toe with Halliburton, the company responsible for the first secret chemical formula for high-volume fracking. Help us demand no further fracking permits be issued in PA; demand accountability from the industry and politicians; and demand the federal Halliburton Loophole be completely closed and EPA oversight on fracking fully restored. Be sane. Be just. Be there.

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