Accountability demanded by protesters

Earth Day – a day to remember the importance of clean air, land and water – became a day of protest Monday in Williamsport.

Environmental organizations of the protest said they want to hold the state Department of Environmental Protection Agency more accountable for oversight of companies that drill for natural gas.

The protesters marched outside the department’s regional office building holding banners and signs

and demanding answers on the potential impacts of hydraulic fracking on natural resources.

Fracking is the process of using chemically treated water forced into the ground at well sites at a high volume to fracture the Marcellus Shale rock formation. The formation is more than a mile below the surface and lower than the water tables. Drillers then extract the gas that is trapped in the pockets of the rock. There are processes of vertical and horizontal drilling.

“It has taken years to find out (that) some of the chemicals used in the gas drilling process contain radioactive elements,” said Lynne Whelden, of Canton.

While Whelden said he isn’t against the men and women who work in the industry and doesn’t blame them, he said its impact is all encompassing, from the glow at night from wells flaring to (potential) damage done to drinking and bathing water.

“Many gas wells are too close to the residential areas,” he said. “Wells are all around us,” he said. “The tunnels are under our water supply in the rock formation, which is ripe for infiltration.”

A lack of precise answers of the toxic makeup in fracking water has bothered Nancy Shipley, of Cogan Station. “I get most upset about the inability to find out what toxic chemicals are used in hydraulic fracking,” she said.

Jeff and Tina Richardson said they live near the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon outside of Wellsboro. The couple claimed that gas drilling damaged their water supply. The damage occurred, they claim, because of an “unrepaired” gas well and impedes their ability to shower and do laundry, which they do nearby, but not at their house.

Despite the gas industry providing fresh drinking water for the Richardsons, the couple doesn’t feel safe with the well so close by.

Some of the banners on display were representative of the alleged impact of gas well drilling on nature. Among them was “The River of Life,” an exhibit from Lewisburg that served as both community art and a warning.

The drawings include pictures of fowl, fish and aquatic life living along or in the river, according to Nancy Cleaver, who brought the material to the protest.

Jack Miller, of Middleburg, simply held up an anti-fracking sign. He didn’t say much else.

City resident Michael Ochs said he viewed the need to establish a national energy policy to emphasize solar, wind and other renewable energy technologies.

Local activists were not alone, as a coalition of 60 organizations and individuals were spread throughout the state at regional offices of the department.