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Video, News: SRBC Votes on Water Withdrawals, Drowned Out by Protest

March 16, 2012

Associated Press (AP) captured the core concerns of about twenty demonstrators who disrupted a Susquehanna River Basin Commission meeting yesterday, objecting to a rapid (and inaudible) vote which rubber-stamped a large number of water withdrawals for high-volume hydraulic fracturing. In “PA River Commission OKs more drilling water use,” AP reports that SRBC approved 48 water withdrawals:

But the demonstrators said the water withdrawals allow a dangerous and polluting industry to continue expanding. Demonstrators also disrupted a meeting in Wilkes-Barre in December.

The neighboring Delaware River Basin Commission has in place an effective moratorium on drilling while it considers rules for it. That commission monitors water quantity and quality in an area that includes parts of four states and provides drinking water for more than 15 million people. It had been scheduled to vote Nov. 21 on proposed rules but postponed it after Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said he would vote against the rules, making the outcome uncertain.

The demonstrators questioned why the Susquehanna River Basin Commission can’t follow suit.

The Harrisburg Patriot-News coverage of the same event starts off strong, but then slides into uncritically reporting misleading claims by state officials, without challenging those claims. This is somewhat disappointing given the well-known facts about — and heated controversies about — the life-cycle impacts of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, from rampant methane migration in PA to scores of cows and other animals which have been sickened and killed by gas drilling contaminants; we’ll address this in a separate blog post. The Patriot-News story, “SRBC approves water withdrawals for Marcellus drilling over chants from protesters,” by Don Gilliland, begins,

A snowy-haired rabbi, the son of holocaust survivors, said Thursday that members of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission were being “good Germans” when they approved water withdrawals for fracking operations over the chanted objections of 20 protesters.

“I am not comparing this to the Holocaust, certainly not,” said Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, of Philadelphia, “but the principle is the same.”

He said, “I learned at a very young age that it is important to stand up for what you believe in and not allow bureaucrats to make decisions that imperil people’s lives.”

The protesters chanted “I pledge to protect the Susquehanna!” as the SRBC voted to approve 46 water withdrawals, 40 of which were for natural gas drilling operations. Capitol Police lined the walls of the meeting room, but no one was arrested.

Rabbi Mordechai Liebling works with Protecting Our Waters and was prepared, along with three other POWers (Sarah Lowry, Kevin Starbard, and Iris Marie Bloom), to go to jail if necessary for speaking out against the massive escalation of unconventional gas drilling enabled by these water withdrawals. SRBC had published, and read aloud, an intimidating set of policies which precluded any public comment at this rapidly concluded public hearing. SRBC stated that any member of the public who spoke aloud during the hearing would be removed from the room and subjected to arrest.

Over forty organizations, so far, have joined in calling on the SRBC to halt any and all new permits for water withdrawals until a cumulative impact study has been done in the Basin. No such study has been undertaken regarding the life-cycle impacts from high-volume slickwater hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling, referred to by the industry as “unconventaional drilling,” and popularly referred to as “fracking.”

Eight Minute Video

The key points activists want addressed are summarized in our short Media Advisory here. The SRBC’s draconian new rules are described by NPR/WHYY here, “Susquehanna River Basin Commission’s New Rules for Radicals.” Our press release about yesterday’s action will be up shortly; a package with a short professional video of the action and the press conference afterwards will be up Monday; and an eight minute video of yesterday’s SRBC meeting and action is available to view right now here:

SRBC: Just the Facts 

Note that, because the docket was not reviewed publicly during the public hearing; because the vote could not be heard; and because the major news media are reporting variously that 40 water withdrawals for fracking were permitted yesterday… or maybe 48… the facts aren’t entirely clear yet.

Because the names of the fracking corporations, such as Anadarko, Cabot, Chief, Chesapeake, Southwestern, and more, who are enjoying the SRBC’s unstinting generosity in the rapid approval of all their requests, were not even read aloud at the meeting, attention is deflected away from these corporations. Most of these corporations already have extensive rap sheets in Pennsylvania for repetitive crimes such as “illegal disposal of industrial waste,” because it’s frankly much cheaper for them to pay the fine (when caught) than to obey the law. A condensed summary of Anadarko’s PA rap sheet from 2008 – present, drawn from PA DEP’s website, is here.

Words of Wisdom: Mordechai Liebling

The Patriot-News good coverage of Rabbi Mordechai Lieblins’s comments, acknowledging his particular insights, drew an ugly anti-Semitic comment, which has since been removed, appropriately, from their website. In honor of Mordechai’s courage and insight, let’s give him the last word, as quoted in the Patriot-News:

Liebling called the drilling “a clear and present danger to the public health of the citizens of Pennsylvania,” citing a drinking water aquifer in Wyoming tainted with chemicals that may have come from fracking, methane’s contribution to global warming and shale drilling “taking money away from renewable energy.”

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