Southwest Pennsylvania residents demand accountability from the DEP

Audio from action! 

Today, Earth Day, residents harmed by fracking and dozens of their allies descended on the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Southwest regional office in Pittsburgh calling for major changes in the agency’s handling of oil and gas permitting and oversight.   Around 2pm, over 100 people marched from the North Shore trail over to the DEP office on Washington’s Landing, in a colorful procession with puppets, banners and a marching band. There, they were met by a cadre of kayakers and canoers, who floated down to the island from the Millvale boat launch.  The protest was organized locally by Shadbush Environmental Justice, Marcellus Protest, Center for Coalfield Justice, and Mountain Watershed Association.

Check out all the photos from today’s action on Flickr.

The theme of the day is “Make It Our DEP”, a call for the agency to serve the people of Pennsylvania and not the oil and gas industry.  In just seven years, the DEP has issued over 10,000 permits for unconventional gas wells using hydraulic fracturing.  An AP report in 2011, found that the average review for these permits lasts 35 minutes [1]. Meanwhile, DEP has failed to investigate hundreds of reports of violations and formal complaints submitted by residents in the shalefields and  willfully withheld critical water testing information from impacted residents [2].

One of those residents is Terry Greenwood of Daisytown, Washington County, a farmer who has had 10 cows die and numerous more stillborn, after a spill from the well site on his property contaminated the pond from which they drink.  Yet the DEP has refused to test the water in the pond. Greenwood, along with members of the Headley family of Fayette County, addressed the crowd.

Adam Headley, 5 years old, had two words for the DEP: “Protect me.”

His father David Headley spoke of how their lives have changed since shale gas drilling began: “We bought our house to be a paradise in the woods, we ended up being in an industrial park”.   Their son Adam has had health problems.  “He’s had stomach cramps, ailments they won’t disclose….this young nurse, she looks around the corner to make sure the doctor’s not there, she says “you need to move”.  When they found out he lived by the gas well, the first thing they tested for was leukemia.  They didn’t ask anything else.  It’s scary, it’s your child.”

Although they have gone to the DEP, they have found no protection.  Linda Headley points out one of many problems: “the DEP is allowing them [shale gas drillers] to self-report.  That’s just like taking my five year old, having him head of a candy store, and telling him “you’re not allowed to eat candy, but if you do eat candy, then you have to tell us how much you ate.”  So, they spill, they’re supposed to tell us how much they spill?”

Monday’s protest is just one of six coordinated actions across the state at each DEP regional office, endorsed by over sixty grassroots environmental organizations. The groups have coalesced around five key demands:

• Appoint an environmental expert without industry ties as DEP Secretary to replace outgoing secretary Krancer
• Place a moratorium on permits for gas wells, compressor stations, pipelines, water withdrawals, coal mines, and other infrastructure related to fossil fuel extraction;
• Allow no more toxic secrets and require full disclosure of water tests and other studies by DEP;
• Provide justice for those harmed by the oil and gas industry; and
• Reopen the DEP Office of Energy and Technology Deployment to develop solar, wind and other renewable energy technologies.

Organizers of the Pittsburgh protest requested a meeting with Regional Director of the Southwest office, Susan Malone to formally deliver their demands.  The group then rallied outside the office and heard testimonies from local organizers and impacted residents.

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