Nearly 100 Earth First! activists, friends and allies forced a 70-foot-tall EQT hydrofracking drill rig to suspend operations for 12 hours yesterday in Pennsylvania’s Moshannon State Forest. This is the first time that protesters have shut down a hydrofrack drilling operation in the US. A tree sitter hung above the access road, with their anchor ropes blocking it. A second person was also in a tree to support the sitter while dozens of supporters guarded ten large debris piles that were across the road. Another group of 50 activists blockaded the entrance to the access road. The State Police, with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, dispersed the blockade around nine p.m. And removed the tree sitters with a ladder truck. Three arrests were made for disorderly conduct, but protesters were cited and released on-site.
There are a limited number of actual drill rigs in operation in the state which are ferried around from site to site on a tight schedule. By halting operations for a day on this site, the blockade has likely created a costly disruption for a handful of wells in the area which EQT apparently planned to drill in succession.
The activists reported that the police were at times reckless with the sitters’ safety, such as being quick to cut their anchor ropes. The supporting sitter’s safety and descent ropes were cut by the police as he climbed higher in the tree. The police in the ladder truck had no radios and communication to the ground was difficult over the noise of the diesel engine; at one point the ladder hit one of the sitter’s support lines. Police were seen taunting the sitter by waving around one of their anchor lines and making jokes at them while shaking the hammock.
The site is part of a high concentration of wells in Moshannon State Forest, one of the most heavily drilled state forests in Pennsylvania. Over half of the forest’s 190,000 acres have been leased for Marcellus drilling using hydraulic fracturing. Despite widespread public opposition, the former PA secretary of Conservation and Natural Resources predicts 12,000 Marcellus wells will be drilled in state forests in the coming decade. A recent poll showed that the majority of Pennsylvanians are opposed to fracking on public lands.
Local farmer Jenny Lisak, whose own property has been impacted by fracking, describes the devastation she has seen in the Moshannon, “Having grown up enjoying Moshannon State Forest in so many ways, I am absolutely appalled at the ongoing destruction. The once narrow and inviting oak-shaded lanes are now being replaced by dust and traffic choked roads for chemical laden trucks – there are no words to describe the injustice of taking public land, meant to provide a source of beauty and wilderness for all and turning it into an industrial zone.”
Drilling in the area has a troubled history. In June 2010, a major blowout at another well in Clearfield County spewed 35,000 gallons of toxic drilling waste into the Little Laurel Run watershed and caused the evacuation of Moshannon State Forest. Since 2008, only 24 of EQT’s 198 Marcellus wells in the state have been inspected and violations were found at every single inspection. When they have been cited, they’ve refused to change their practices. On May 9, 2012, in Duncan Township, Tioga County, EQT was cited for faulty construction on a flowback water impoundment; three weeks later the pit failed, contaminating a nearby spring.
“This is part of an escalating direct action campaign against fracking in the Marcellus Shale region,” said Danielle Dietterick, an activist affiliated with Marcellus Earth First! from Benton, Pa. “People from all around the country have joined with Pennsylvania residents to put their bodies on the line to stop fracking.”
The action comes on the heels of a 12-day blockade to stop the displacement of the Riverdale Mobile Home Park, in Lycoming County, and the shutdown of a fracking wastewater injection well near Athens, Ohio. Groups across the country are planning more anti-extraction interventions like RAMPS in West Virginia and the Tar Sands Blockade in Texas, later this month. All these independent, grassroots-led actions show perhaps a coalescing national uprising against exploitative extraction.
Susan Riley, another supporter, cheered on the bold action, “The state government has sold off our public lands and, with Act 13, stripped us of our rights to local self-governance. The fracking industry has free reign in this state and no one’s gonna stop them unless we do.”