This week, I tabled at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg. The booth was co-sponsored by Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Food and Water Watch, PennEnvironment, Protecting Our Waters and Berks Gas Truth. It was an amazing experience, despite the fact that I had to park in Pittsburgh.
We put a lot of good information in the hands of farmers, food producers, land owners, students and laypeople. We did receive a few dirty looks, but far more people stopped by to ask questions and thank us for our good work.
Meeting others who are committed to the clean energy cause is always a pleasure, and interacting with the show’s visitors was absolutely incredible. The highlight for me, however, was slapping Ban Fracking Now! stickers on the tote bags being handed out by the Marcellus Shale Coalition a few booths away.
Here are a few of my personal observations from the show:
Iris Marie Bloom is the bravest person I’ve ever met. Okay, I already knew that, but it takes a lot of guts to stand up for what you believe in, especially when you do it singlehandedly in front of a thousand people at a Marcellus Shale Coalition luncheon after Governor Corbett has filled their heads with pro-gas propaganda.
That’s exactly what Bloom did, and she managed to convey several excellent points before being ejected by state police. It’s worthwhile to note, she then charmed those same state troopers, and armed them with excellent resources to educate themselves more about gas drilling issues.
A little excitement goes a long way. Her words, though brief, served to alert attendees to the fact that few things gas industry says should be accepted without question. Pennsylvanians are generally conservative, and they’re not gullible. If something seems to good to be true, they naturally want to know more. While traffic at the booth was steady all morning, it really picked up after that.
Overall, it seemed to me that while a growing number of concerned citizens across the country, and around the world, have been raising awareness of gas drilling issues for years, many Pennsylvanians are only just learning about the dangers of Fracking. When asked “Have you heard about Fracking?” most replied, “I’ve heard of it, but I’m not sure what it is or why it’s bad.”
I learned that there are far more injuries among workers in the gasfields than reported. Burns, headaches, and temporary blindness are the most common. Another disturbing revelation, the industry will often point to a positive drug test as grounds for termination, and therefore withhold bonuses and paychecks. One terminated employee I spoke with claimed he was subsequently tested by his parole officer, only to have the test come back clean.
Finally, I learned that DEP employees, when assured they would not be named, will be very open about their dislike for current DEP Secretary, Michael Krancer. The consensus among the long-term employees I spoke with was that John Hanger genuinely cared, whereas Krancer “doesn’t give a shit.” No one I spoke with had received any specialized training to test for gas drilling contamination.
Despite the surprising general lack of awareness of gas drilling dangers, few people are willing to accept the industry’s glossy claims without question. While we were engaged by a few pro-gas individuals, the exchanges were spirited but polite. My takeaway: Pro- or anti-, Pennsylvanians want to have an open debate. There’s a real thirst for good, independent information.
Many thanks to Rod Platt and Tim Devaney for their amazing job setting up the booth and organizing the volunteers. Thanks also to Stephen Cleghorn for his presence at the show. The large banner featuring a photo of his goats was a huge hit.