It wasn’t that long ago that when a corporation wanted to shut up local citizens trying to protest the company’s actions, the company filed a SLAPP suit. Known on the street as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, they were quite common in the late eighties and early nineties. The procedure would tie up local protestors in court while the company continued doing what it wanted to do. Eventually, in most cases, these suits were thrown out and in many cases the protesters fighting the suits went broke paying lawyers.
But that was then and this is now. Apparently we are not just nosy nimbys ( not in my back yard) citizens anymore but that we now have the potential to be terrorists. At least that is the fear in Harrisburg these days. The Governor and his “we live in fear twenty-four seven buddies”, hired an outside firm to attend all rallies and public hearings on the new gas drilling operations, to see who was there. Costing in excess of $125,000, this keep an eye on your neighbor policy will establish a base line and data face base of who is concerned about the drilling should trouble arise in the future
For those who have no idea what this is all about let me bring you up to speed. Right now a gold rush of sorts is going on in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia, all looking for natural gas in the “Marcellus Shale.” It is a geological formation underneath most of these states and is loaded with natural gas. And much like the first oil rush in the late 1800’s people are going after it with all they have. However, the process to get the gas released from the shale is far more complicated than just drilling a well.
Despite recent advertisements you may see where the farmer tells you how he has struggled all his life to be a farmer, but now with the gas wells on his property some of his neighbors are just farming for fun, things are not that fun for everyone. Getting the natural gas to come out of the ground involves a process called fracticng. In its simplest terms it involves pressuring water loaded with various chemicals, none of which you want to drink by the way, down into a well shaft and pressuring the whole thing so that the shale under the ground cracks and fractures. Once fractured the gas comes to the surface a bit easier. The company takes the gas and everyone is pleased a new natural gas sources is found locally.
Problem is most of rural Pennsylvania and the other states are not on any public water supplies. Those chemicals can get into your water system. Once the well is fouled it becomes almost impossible to re use safely. Recent documentaries have shown that the water coming out of some rural wells are so contaminated the water can be lit on fire!
In most people’s minds this is where government comes in and saves the day to act in the citizens interest. Well, not so fast. This drilling is expected to provide thousands of jobs. Create new industry and support a lot of politicians along the way. And anyone with new jobs and money makes friends real easy in this state. I once wrote a grant for an environmental group here in Pennsylvania that started this way. “Hazardous waste is like water. It follows the path of least resistance. That being the case; all roads lead to Pennsylvania A state that supports industry concerns over its residents is just what some of these drillers are looking for. “You got a Friend in Pennsylvania,” takes on a whole new meaning!
The environmental movement of the late eighties taught a a cold hard lesson. That being, that when it comes to business and government; government always stood on the side of business rather than behind the safety and well being of its residents. The fact that the governor is already surveying potential threats for the drilling industry shows us that hasn’t changed and apparently is not about to any time soon.