New Castle News

November 13, 2012

Photo Gallery, Story: Protesters oppose Marcellus drilling in North Beaver

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Demonstrators who lined Route 551 Monday included a woman dressed like Mother Nature and holding an “SOS Fracking” sign.

Lisa DeSantis of New Castle said she was dressed that way to show her concern about Marcellus Shale fracking, which has the potential to ruin water wells and the environment.

“I’m personally upset over how they sold over 500 acres of my park for $2.2 million,” DeSantis said.

She was referring to New Castle city council’s vote to accept Hilcorp Energy Co.’s offer of $2 million for leasing mineral rights of city-owned properties.

Those are Cascade and Gaston parks, Deshon and Flaherty fields and Sylvan Heights golf course.



PICKET LINE

However, Monday’s protest was mainly in opposition to a Shell Appalachia drilling site on property off Route 551 in North Beaver Township, less than a mile from an organic farm.

About 16 state police cruisers left the station around 9:30 a.m. for the well pad to keep order.

About 30 people holding anti-drilling and anti-fracking signs stood along the highway to gain public attention.

The pickets had traveled from throughout Pennsylvania Saturday and camped the weekend on the lawn of organic farmers Dale and Maggie Henry of Columbiana Road.

They shared information and planned for Monday’s two-hour event, which formed around 11 a.m. and broke up when gusty winds whipped up in the early afternoon.

The event was organized by the Shadbush Environmental Justice Collective, a Pittsburgh volunteer-run group interested in protecting the water, air and health.



SHOW OF SUPPORT

“We are here to support Maggie and Dale,” said Jessica McPherson, spokeswoman. “They are extremely concerned about the drilling and the impact (the drilling) will have on the food that they provide.”

Maggie Henry has been attending various shale-related and government meetings as an activist, sharing her concern about hundreds of abandoned gas wells dotting the western end of Lawrence County, several of which surround or are on her farm. She did not attend Monday’s demonstration because she was sick.

There is great concern for the potential for water problems that could arise from drillers hitting those wells, McPherson, of Pittsburgh, said.

She regularly shops at the Strip District market where Henry sells her natural, organic farm products, McPherson said.

Iris Marie Bloom of Philadelphia said she was there to support community safety.

“I’ve been listening to people from impacted communities in Pennsylvania for three years,” she said, including Butler County residents whose drinking water was polluted by drilling.

Ann Dixon, who also traveled from Philadelphia, commented, “This drilling affects everyone everywhere, because it’s reducing the amount of potable water.”



A PEACEFUL DAY

Joe Minnitte, a Shell case manager, was on site and said the protesters caused no real problems.

The protest also was peaceful in the eyes of the state police, who cautioned people to stand out of the way of trucks entering and exiting the drill site and to stay off the highway.

The 27 officers and about 20 cruisers were staged in the Westview Presbyterian Church parking lot, and a state police helicopter from Franklin used the churchyard as a landing zone.

“We have a duty to protect their safety and protect the drilling business,” explained Sgt. Dan Ekis of the state police in New Castle.

“Our primary goal was to keep the residents of this area safe and allow the business people around here to conduct their business. We need to balance that with their right to protest.”

The detail had been in the planning since Wednesday last week.

“It went exactly as we wanted it to go, and nobody got hurt,” Ekis said.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)