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.”