Pennsylvanians Rally To Stop Fracking Near Schools

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Above: Screen shot from video of march. See video below.

Protesters Continue Fight to Protect the Health and Safety of Children in Schools

Butler, PA – More than 100 parents, concerned citizens, and advocates marched through downtown Butler to Diamond Park on Saturday to send a strong message that gas wells and infrastructure have no place near schools.

More than 100 parents, concerned citizens, and advocates marched through downtown Butler to Diamond Park on Saturday to send a strong message that gas wells and infrastructure have no place near schools.  Saturday’s rally was held as a follow-up to the July 14 protest rally held at the Mars Area School District (MASD) campus held in support of the Mars Parent Group’s fight to keep a Rex Energy wells from being placed about one-half mile from the campus’ five schools and 3200 student population.

The Saturday protest emphasized that the egregious practice of putting unconventional gas wells and related activity such as gas processing plants, compressor stations, and pipelines near schools is pernicious by demonstrating the extent of the problem in Butler County.  In Butler, it is known that at least five schools have been put at risk and the potential exists for many more of the county’s schools to be so in the future if the gas industry is permitted to continue gas development as it currently plans to do.  This is the case not only for Butler County, but wherever shale gas development has encroached into communities across the state. The event was sponsored byMarcellus Outreach Butler (MOB), a coalition member of Protect Our Children, a coalition of over 30 statewide organization.

Source: Marcellus Outreach Butler

Source: Marcellus Outreach Butler

The march was followed by a rally at Diamond Park, a site adjacent to the Butler County Courthouse, where the Court of Common Pleas will hear the legal challenge on September 17 that was launched by parents of children attending school at the MASD campus and environmental groups of the amendment of Middlesex Township zoning that allows for shale gas extraction and related activities close to schools as well as residential neighborhoods. Rally speakers included the Mars Parent Group, Women for a Healthy Environment, PennEnvironment, Moms Clean Air Force, and MOB. The speakers’ comments reflected the purpose of the march and rally.

“Recently, Healthy Schools Pennsylvania, a program of Women for a Healthy Environment, released its mapping initiative, Environmental Hazards Near Southwestern PA Schools which identified potential environmental hazards near schools. Our mapping concluded that as of June 2015, there are 382 active gas wells within a one-mile radius of public schools across southwestern PA. One district in particular has been burdened with 40 wells within the one-mile radius of its school buildings,” said Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, executive director of Women for a Healthy Environment.

“In addition, there are over 40 compressor stations within the one-mile radius of schools across our region. We know these sources can be a large contributing factor to poor air quality, both in and outside of the schools. We must do a better job of protecting our children from the negative health impacts of these drilling operations.”

Source: Marcellus Outreach Butler

Source: Marcellus Outreach Butler

MOB’s Connie Fleeger, a retired teacher (“I’m not afraid of anything; I taught teen agers”) stated “It’s time for our public officials and our educators to examine the facts and start learning. Our childrens’ and grandchildrens’ futures depend upon it. The biggest irony is that many of those who are in charge of educating our children are refusing to educate themselves. Maybe it’s time for everyone to go back to school because there’s plenty of new information about the dangerous effects fracking has on our health.”

Dr. Jerome Paulson, immediate past chair of the executive committee of the Council on Environmental Health, American Academy of Pediatrics, and who has worked with the Protect Our Children Coalition,  summarized where the research on fracking stands recently in an op-ed published on August 24 in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “There is no evidence that hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, can operate without risks to human health. The corporations doing the work have never done the research to try to minimize air and water pollution from equipment.” Demonstrating that POC’s call for a one-mile buffer for fracking activity around schools, a demand recently ignored by the PA Department of Environmental Protection despite thousands of submitted comments by concerned citizens, is conservative and now known to be deficient, Dr. Paulson further stated, “Any claims of safety are based on wishful thinking. There is also no scientifically definitive setback distance that would prevent health and safety impacts from oil and gas infrastructure.. . .”

Concerns also exist over the very real safety risks due to accidental explosions and fires.  Examples of such occurrences are the gas well explosion and fire near Dunkard, Green County in February, 2014 and the gas storage tanks fire in Avella, Washington County in February 2010.  These and other such fires and explosions related to natural gas activity illustrate the very real danger of accidents. Karen Feridun, POC representative from Berks Gas Truth, sums up the danger, “It would be difficult to impossible to evacuate a school or an entire campus of students, staff, and faculty in the event of a fire or explosion.”