Passion Evident at Marcellus Rally, But So Were Divisions (With Video)

By Keegan Gibson and Jamie Brackman

The passion uniting opponents of Marcellus shale gas drilling was on full display yesterday in the Capitol. So too were some divisions among Pennsylvania’s top environmental advocacy groups.

Around 300 protesters filled the Capitol yesterday amid colorful signs and shouts of “No Fracking Way!” Several leaders said it was the largest environmental rally they’d ever seen in the Capitol; one compared it to the reaction to Three Mile Island.

The rally showed the strong emotions that underlie the movement – dozens of participants teared up during the first hand account of Chrystal Stroud, whose family has suffered the results of contaminated well water.

But beyond their shared sense of dissatisfaction with the use of hydraulic fracturing (aka “fracking”), and anger at the Corbett administration, significant differences emerged among the activists.

The most illustrative moment came during remarks by State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery/Delaware). Leach was hailed as “one of the few legislators we can depend on” by an earlier speaker, and was greeted at the podium with loud applause. He spoke initially in support of his bill, SB 426, which would begin a 3 year moratorium on Marcellus drilling in PA.

But when he turned to the possibility of a severance tax, Leach lost part of the crowd.

“Pennsylvania is the only state with a large deposit of Marcellus shale without impact tax legislation,” Leach said “shouldn’t the people of Pennsylvania be the ones to benefit?”

“No fracking!” yelled one protester. “It’s pollution!” yelled another. A chant of “ban fracking now!” broke out during Leach’s explanation of taxes.

“I have a moratorium bill. I don’t want to be doing any of this,” Leach reiterated.

State Senator Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny) echoed the reaction to his colleague’s point.

“No amount of revenue or tax will be worth a damn if we harm what makes up most of our bodies – water!”  Senator Jim Ferlo told demonstrators.  “If you’re wondering when a natural gas company spokesperson is lying; When their mouth is open, they are lying.”

Filmmaker Josh Fox, whose documentary ‘Gasland’ about natural gas drilling was nominated for an Oscar, best summed up the point.

“I’m here to stop drilling,” Fox declared. “Why would you want a fee for something that needs to be stopped immediately?”

And PennFuture, one of PA’s largest environmental advocacy groups, was absent from the rally altogether. The group does not support a moratorium, but instead calls for a drilling tax and stronger regulations.

“We do not support a moratorium and we strongly support a drilling tax,” said President and CEO Jan Jarrett. “Some of the activists actually want a permanent ban on drilling. I don’t know what those that want a moratorium expect at the end of a ‘study.’”

“PennFuture has been a strong advocate for renewable energy and energy conservation, but for the foreseeable future, we will still need to rely on coal, gas and nuclear to meet our energy needs. If we don’t use gas for more of our energy generation, we will use more coal – period.”

Even the chants seems somewhat at odds. The rally began with shouts of “No free pass for oil and gas!” – ostensibly a pro-severance tax message – and ended with “You can’t drink a tax!”

Still, the groups have more in common than apart. Leaders say the key will be to keep the spotlight on the Marcellus issue now, in hopes that it can help more sympathetic lawmakers win office next year.

“We are redrawing the political ideas and boundaries of this state,” said Nathan Sooy of the group Clean Water Action. “What this is about isn’t the current session, this is about the next election. This is about changing the conversation in the state concerning shale gas so that it becomes an election issue.”

June 8th, 2011 | Posted in Front Page Stories, Harrisburg | 11 Comments

11 thoughts on “Passion Evident at Marcellus Rally, But So Were Divisions (With Video)”

  1. The Prospector says:

    Gas continues to be pumped into the homes of those wanting to stop drilling. In fact, they want to stop drilling in PA only because it is in their backyards. They don’t mind “poisoning” the children of Texas as long as their homes are heated in the northeast.

  2. Art Clark says:

    @Ketchum, Forouzan, Weir

    Here we go again. Instead of blasting the do-nothing legislature and the industry, we line up a circular firing squad.

    If you ask around, there are grassroots leaders from the fracking disaster areas who have bothered to talk to Jan privately, in-depth about gas issues. As the impetus behind a few of these interactions, I can tell you that their impression of Jan Jarrett is a lot different than the evil, sell-out caricature plastered on this web page and many others.

    Jan is an employee of PennFuture. Jan does not get to decide every position and policy of PennFuture. She answers to a Board of Directors. She does her best to fight industry misinformation, their servants in the legislature and push for much stronger regulation and enforcement. But she has to do so within the positions PennFuture has adopted.

    Jan Jarrett and PennFuture are not the same entity. Just because you (like me, by the way) disagree very strongly with some of PennFuture’s policies and positions, does not mean you have any business publicly, personally attacking Jan. Jan has worked tirelessly on behalf of environmental protection, for decades, at PennFuture and Chesapeake Bay Foundation before that. Her work on gas issues is a tiny sliver of her decades of hard work for PA’s environment and citizens.

    There’s an old rule of thumb from veteran organizers that goes like this: “If you want to praise someone, do it in writing. If you want to chew someone out, pick up the phone.” This kind of public infighting is exactly what the industry and the press want. Look at the title of this article. The press loves this stuff.

    The fracking movement here in PA would be more effective and much more approachable to new citizen activists if these kinds of disputes were handled appropriately: in private. This is precisely why you don’t see the Sierra Club attacking Clean Water Action when we disagree, nor do you see CWA attacking the Sierra Club. There’s a reason for that: Publicly attacking another organization, or worse yet, a specific person, makes EVERYONE look bad. Yes, it makes YOU look bad also.

    This is not a second-grade playground where name-calling is to be expected. This is an incredibly important public debate about the fate of Pennsylvania’s people, waters and land. Grow up.

  3. @Porcupine Legislatures USUALLY work incrementally, but sometimes there are great shifts forward, such as when the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972. Or when women got the right to vote. Or when the voting rights act was passed. Or when access to health insurance gets extended to drastically more people.

    These great shifts forward are always precipitated by massive groundswells at the grassroots. Lots of rallies. Lots of protests. Lots of real confrontation. Lots of the stuff that “alienates” moderates and people who find yelling unseemly, but when legislatures really do make dramatic changes its because they forced to by clamor from the grassroots. Whether it alienates the average person or not.

    Please go read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham City Jail again. It’s illustrative on this point.

  4. @Porcupine

    It is a shame that everyone critical of Penn Future’s actions was willing to do so publically and without a pen name, yet you seem unwilling to do the same.

  5. Porcupine says:

    Jan Jarrett is respected as an intelligent and reasonable voice within the environmental community. If your group exists on principle alone, you are doing a fantastic job making your voices heard, and then ignored, and alientating people in the middle of the road. The reality is, it isn’t practical.

    I understand and respect the views of passionate grassroots groups, but the moderate groups like PennFuture are the ones actually getting things done. The legislature moves a fraction of an inch at a time, and moving that toward environmental goals is an exhaustive effort regardless of the dominant party.

    Start working with, not against, the environmentalists who are willing to compromise. They live in a reality that requires hard work every day to achieve a fraction of an inch of movement towards conservation and resource protection.

  6. There can be no compromise. This industry has proven that they can not be trusted, and our state legislature and regulatory agencies have proven that they have no political will to enforce the laws and regulation that are already on the books in PA.

    We must demand a moratorium until the scientific studies are completed, peer reviewed, and when that is done, work towards a total ban.

    No amount of taxes, fines, or toothless legislation will be worth what we’re being forced to scarifice.

    To accept a tax would be the same as saying: “Well, our little girl is a tramp, so we might as well pimp here off and be compensated.”

    Moratorium, now, followed by a ban!

  7. David Darby says:

    is it about the money or the environment? This is the problem. To echo Senator Ferlo..How can you tell when the people who address these rallies are lying? When they talk out of both sides of their mouths. Go ahead rotunda hanger ons. Even if you are right that there are enviromnetal risks, who cares because there will not be any jobs or people left in the state anyway.

  8. Loretta Weir says:

    There can be no compromise on the drilling issue. We must ban fracking and ban it now! Our wells, streams, and rivers are already polluted from this toxic exercise. We have proof of contamination, there are real people that have become ill as a result of being in the vicinity of fracking, flaring and compressor stations. The industry is caught in one lie after another, and yet some people will still support this?? Our politicians have accepted hefty sums of money to do as the industry dictates, yet some still trust that they are looking out for us?? Innocent people are collateral damage in the game of corporate greed. If Penn Future (Jan Jarret) want to participate in the destruction of this beautiful state, they should certainly not due it under the disguise of an “environmental group”.
    Penn Future had no place with us in Harrisburg yesterday.

  9. Ban fracking! No compromise!

  10. Gloria Forouzan says:

    Yesterday’s protest was an unparalleled coming together of established groups and nitty gritty groups, like Marcellus Protest and Gas Truth, alongside Clean Water Action/Penn Environment/Sierra Club.

    Ms. Jarrett, the train has left the station. Penn Future’s not on it. If you run, real quick, maybe you can catch us at the next stop. If you continue slogging along in the middle of the road, you’re bound to get run over.

  11. Well it seems Jan Jarret can always be relied upon to belittle other environmental groups.

    I was there yesterday. What I saw was a prime case of the people leading. Jan would do well to start following.

    Penn Future seems to be ready and waiting to give “environmentalist” cover to the industry. I suppose it is keeping in step with their stated mission of creating a ‘just future where nature, communities and the economy thrive”. I tend to believe more and more that the economics are what they really value.

    I recall an article in the Patriot News back in January where Jan criticized my organization for hosting a rally during Tom Corbett’s inauguration. She said groups like our engaging in such tactics and making demands for moratoriums would not have a “seat at the table” when it came time to make decisions. I believe time will show quite the opposite.

    Jan, Pennsylvania residents dealing with the fallout of fracking are not interested in your watered down approach to the issue. They want results. They want to stop the industry. As long as Penn Future refuses to join the rest of the movement in calling for a moratorium, Penn Future will find itself increasingly marginalized and on the fringe.

    I understand Jan may have aspirations of a cushy transition from Penn Future into the Public sector as he predecessor and founder of Penn Future John Hanger experienced when we became the Secretary of the DEP. Well she is certainly on track for that.

    But if Penn Future has any aspirations of real, grassroots support, it is time to stop discouraging groups like Gas Truth, Marcellus Protest and even more moderate groups like Clean Water Action and the Sierra Club from engaging in more aggressive approaches with more substantial demands.

    I’m not sure who taught them how to bargain, but when I start negotiations, I start by demanding everything I want and going from there.

    I would welcome further debate with Jan or other representatives of Penn Future on this topic.

    Ben Ketchum

    Gas Truth of Central PA
    NoFrackingWayPA (at) gmail

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