Protesters occupy DEP's Washington Landing office

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Demonstrators came by boat and bike trail to Washington's Landing on the Allegheny River Monday, loudly protesting what they said was the state Department of Environmental Protection's failure to adequately regulate fossil fuel industries, including Marcellus Shale gas, or support renewable energy development.

The float, march and rally, which was billed as an "Earth Day protest against fracking," ended with most of the 75 participants crowded into the lobby of the DEP's Southwest Regional office on the island, where they asked to speak with Susan Malone, the regional director. The protest was one of six planned at DEP regional offices around the state Monday by a coalition of more than 60 environmental and citizens groups.

The coalition is demanding that the DEP place a moratorium on all Marcellus Shale gas development activities, including issuing permits for new wells, compressor stations and pipelines; fully report chemical contamination for well water samples affected by shale gas development; fully enforce existing shale gas and coal regulations; and reopen the department's solar, wind and other renewable energy programs.

It also is demanding that Gov. Tom Corbett appoint a new DEP secretary who has no ties to the shale gas or coal industries. The former DEP secretary, Michael Krancer, resigned April 15 to return as a partner to the Philadelphia office of Blank Rome LLP, an international law and lobbying firm that has clients in the natural gas industry, where he'll chair the firm's energy, petrochemical and natural resources practice.

"This is the first time there's ever been a coordinated, grass-roots effort of people standing up and saying, 'Make it our DEP,' " said Patrick Young, the protest's coordinator and a leader of the Shadbush Environmental Justice Collective.

Mr. Young was in one of nine kayaks and canoes that paddled down the river from the Millvale Riverfront Park to the Three Rivers Heritage bike trail, just below Washington's Landing. There the boaters were joined by the other protesters, including the 10-piece May Day Marching Band, that had walked up the bicycle trail, for the march over the bicycle bridge and onto the island.

"We all live downriver from somewhere, and what happens upriver affects my water quality here," said Mike Cornell, who paddled a canoe to the protest and carried a sign that read, "Allegheny Armada for Clean Water."

Ms. Malone, the regional director, didn't meet with the group, but John Poister, a DEP spokesman, appeared in the lobby and, with disarming deadpan humor, calmly asked the chanting crowd, "Can I help you?" After the laughter died down, he listened to the protesters' demands, said he already had a copy of them from the event's news release, and would pass them along to DEP headquarters.

"I think there is an important message being delivered here, and I intend to let them know in Harrisburg," Mr. Poister said as the protesters filed outside.

There, David and Linda Headley told the crowd the DEP had done nothing to protect their 115-acre farm in Springhill, Fayette County, from four shallow gas wells and a deep Marcellus Shale gas well drilled on their land without a lease because they didn't own the gas rights under the property.

"The water is poisoned, the air is polluted and the soil is contaminated," Mr. Headley said. "You can light our spring water on fire. Our doctors have told us to move away."

Ms. Headley said she, her husband and young son have had myriad health problems -- sore throats, sinus infections, coughing, joint pain, bleeding gums and hair loss. The DEP has been to the farm two dozen times, she said, but written only three or four citations.

"We're getting sick, and the DEP inspectors keep saying give the drilling companies a chance," she said, shaking her head. "But who's going to give us a chance?"

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Don Hopey: or 412-263-1983.


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