Three-day training culminates in protest at Shell fracking site in western PA
Hardly a more peaceful place could be imagined than the land on Maggie Henry’s farm, where grassroots leaders from Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and New York gathered for three days in early November. The Shalefield Justice Action Camp was designed by the thoughtful, creative Shadbush Collective as a skills-building, educational and galvanizing set of sessions particularly for the growing anti-fracking movement in western Pennsylvania. Strong established groups like Marcellus Protest, Mountain Watershed Association and Marcellus Outreach Butler; tireless grassroots researchers from Save Our Streams and PACWA (Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Water and Air), farmers and Pittsburgh area organizers alike mixed it up with a West Virginian who comes from “90 years of struggle against an extractive industry” and even seven of us who headed out from Philadelphia, all part of or allied with Protecting Our Waters.
Maggie Henry’s situation is serious. “Farmer fights for her land,” on EcoWatch.org, sums it up here. Surrounded by over 1,000 and perhaps as many as 1,500 old abandoned oil wells drilled between 1901 and 1906, the quiet farm is threatened by a fracking operation so close that the drill rig, operated by Shell — the second largest corporation in the world by revenue — could be seen and heard all night long.
For some folks sleeping in tents, it was the first time they’d seen and heard, let alone protested at, a fracking well pad. On Monday, November 12th, about thirty activists stood with signs and banners at the Shell well pad in solidarity with Maggie. Maggie has done everything she can to file formal objections to Shell’s shale gas drilling. Shell already caused 50-foot geysers to spew up out of old abandoned wells when they fracked in Tioga County, and here they are at it again. Maggie expressed her gratitude for the presence of activists committed to helping her by donating the pig for a pig roast (I never saw so many vegans at a pig roast) and said, looking out at the crowd gathered in her greenhouse, “this is what love looks like.”
Approximately 25 police cars matched the activists almost one to one — in other words, each soft-bodied activist holding signs and banners with messages like, “We’re all in this together,” was matched by approximately one hard metal police car, joined almost ludicrously by a police helicopter hovering overhead. While making a peaceful visit to the latrines Shadbush Collective built on Maggie’s Farm to make sure the ecological consequences of 75 – 100 activists coming for a visit were handled responsibly, one could see the police cruisers consulting each other over by the cornfield.
A sign inside the outhouse advised “a quarter-cup scoop of lime after each poo, like snow dusting a mountaintop…”
While activists studied graphs and charts showing how shale gas drilling accelerates climate change; learned from very serious films like Triple Divide and studied the horrifying implications of approximately 325,000 – 500,000 abandoned and improperly plugged, or un-mapped and completely un-plugged, old oil and gas wells littering Pennsylvania; while we addressed burnout and built communities of care; while we listened to the farmers fighting for their land, their livelihoods, and their ability to produce clean food they can feel good about taking to market — we also took time to appreciate every detail of our surroundings, from the old bay horse arising sleepily from the good earth on a neighboring farm, to the view from the latrine.