Anti-fracking crowd uses logs, pipe to block Dam Run Road

SALLADASBURG – Workers en route Thursday morning to a gas drilling site on Dam Run Road were unable to get there because three protesters had chained and apparently cemented their arms to the interior of 12-foot-long plastic pipe that was extended across the center of the two-lane road.

Other protesters, believed to be close to 20, had pulled large tree logs and branches out onto the road, according to one gas worker, who only identified himself as Neil.

“It was crazy. I never saw anything like it,” said the worker, who was from Louisiana.

The protesters were identified as Marcellus Shale Earth First!, an activist group in the northcentral and northeastern areas of Pennsylvania that adamantly opposes drilling for natural gas on public lands and in state forests.

The group, which set up their protest before dawn, is part of what they described as a nationwide movement that aims to protect the environment from harm through grassroots action and resistance.

Neil said that an estimated 30 other co-workers were unable to reach the work site because of the protest.

“They were pulling trees out of the woods and blocking the road. They were like human beavers, building a beaver dam across the road,” Neil said of the protesters.

Two women and one man got down on the ground and had extended their arms into openings of the plastic pipe. It appeared that the arms were chained and somehow became cemented to the pipe, Neil said.

“I really have no idea how they did it,” Neil said. The protest took place about three miles north of Route 287, near the Mifflin-Cummings Township line.

It took volunteer firefighters more than two hours to free the three protesters, who, along with two others who refused to disperse, were arrested and jailed on a variety of misdemeanor and summary charges.

Two of those arrested were farm workers, two were employed in retail and one was a self-employed contractor.

The protesters extended a large banner that read “No Fracking – No Compromise,” Neil said, which is the slogan of the group.

“I was shocked,” he said.

State police closed Dam Run Road to traffic until about 1:30 p.m. The Sun-Gazette took a call from a woman at about 11 a.m. who did not wish to be named, but who identified herself as a caretaker for an elderly man who lives in a cabin on the road.

The man needed a generator on his property, but the technician was not able to get through because of the protest activity, she said.

Volunteer firefighters from both fire companies in Jersey Shore responded and worked for more than two hours to free three protesters from the cemented pipe.

“It was weird. It was definitely a challenging (assignment),” one firefighter at the scene said.

Almost on a daily basis, firefighters are called on to use their training and tools to extricate crash victims from wrecks, but this call was definitely different, the fireman said.

Trooper James A. Wool, the lead investigator, said in an affidavit that as firefighters cut into the pipe, “it was determined that the pipe was filled with concrete, nails and other metal objects, making it impossible to safely cut it.”

A blade on one of their power saws broke, he added.

Using sledge hammers, air chisels and electric saws, firefighters managed to free all three protesters by 11:30 a.m. No one was injured, and all three were turned over to state police.

“They were peaceful. They were not rude or ignorant,” the firefighter said of the protesters. “They actually apologized for the inconvenience,” he added.

Those arraigned before District Judge Jerry C. Lepley included: John Dewitt Nicholson, 28, of Lewisburg; Tyler James Kobel, 18, of Altoona; Nathan Walker Joseph, 25, of Cincinnati, Ohio; Zora Marcus Gussow, 23, of Rochester, N.Y., and Sierra Dawn Moy, 18, of Port Jervis, N.Y.

All five were charged with disorderly conduct, failure to disperse and obstructing a highway. Joseph and the two women each faced an additional charge of recklessly endangering.

Unable to post bail, which ranged from $10,000 to $12,500, all five were committed to the Lycoming County Prison. Three of those brought before the judge said they had prior arrests for trespassing as a result of participating in other peaceful protests.

In addition to the blockage on Dam Run Road, protesters gathered outside Anadarko Petroleum Corp.’s local headquarters, 33 W. Third St., in downtown Williamsport at about 11:00 a.m.

The group, which numbered about 25, stood in front of the Lycoming County court house across the street from the building that houses Anadarko’s offices, waving signs and chanting along to the beat of a tambourine and a makeshift drum.

“Hey hey! Ho ho! Anadarko’s got to go!” they chanted.

Danielle Dietterick, media spokeswoman for the group, explained that Anadarko was the specific target of the protest because of their previous actions with regard to drilling.

“This demonstration is directly related to this specific corporation and their negligence in drilling in state forests,” she said.

Dietterick was referring to Anadarko’s history of pollution and compliance problems since it began operating in northcentral Pennsylvania.

According to a Feb. 6 report from MarketWatch, a publication of the Wall Street Journal, Anadarko ranked 7th worst among 600 operators in the state, with 246 violations between 2009-2013.

With a ban on drilling for natural gas in state public lands and forests – such as Loyalsock Forest, whose Clarence Moore tract is under consideration for development – recently lifted by Gov. Tom Corbett, the group feels that now is the time to act.

“We feel empowered to take action and say to Anadarko that Pennsylvania is my home,” she said.

Dr. Wendy Lynne Lee, a professor of philosophy at Bloomsburg University and one of the protesters, agreed.

“We want to see it stopped everywhere because it’s destroying our communities and it’s destroying our water,” she said.

Lee, who also is part of the Shale Justice Coalition, said that stopping companies like Anadarko, who have a history of environmental ethics violations, is crucial to protecting forested areas.

“We’re doing this out of love of the state forests, but not just to protect just a few specific parts,” she said. “We regard them the same way as our own yards, as special places.”

Dietterick said that the protest at the work site this morning was also part of the group’s targeting of Anadarko, but Patrick Marty, Staff Government Relations Representative, said that the particular site being blocked was not one operated by the company.

“There are numerous wellpads on that road, and we do have one there, but the one (blocked) was not ours,” Marty said.

“We respect everyone’s right to express their views, provided that it doesn’t put any one in jeopardy, including our personnel,” he said.

Anadarko asked state police to respond to the work site this morning because it was endangering personnel, he said.

The public protest, which was watched from across the street by deputies from the Lycoming County Sheriff’s office, ended at about 1:30 p.m.

Dietterick said that the group’s actions of the day were an “escalation of tactics” intended to raise awareness about Anadarko’s drilling activities.

“We’re here to say that we have not forgotten the things that they have done, we’re not afraid, we’re going to keep coming back until we get our message across,” she added.