Update 9:30 pm:
A blockade against natural gas drilling at a well site in Moshannon State Forest that began Sunday morning has been dismantled by police, according to protestors. Witnesses say police used a cherry picker to remove two tree-sitters this evening at about 8:30 pm.
Alex Lotorto, a protester who joined a rally at the end of the access road, said nobody was hurt during the incident. There are unconfirmed reports that three people were arrested.
A group calling itself Marcellus Earth First! set up a blockade in Moshannon State Forest, preventing the natural gas company EQT from operating a well. A report on an Earth First! website says the blockade on a gravel road began before 9:30 Sunday morning with about 40 protestors who successfully prevented a truck from entering the drill site.
EQT spokesperson Natalie Cox says the drilling operations have shut down over safety concerns for the company’s employees, contractors, police and protesters. Cox says activities at the well pad were in the early stages.
EQT is one of the largest drillers in Pennsylvania, with about 300 active wells in the western part of the state. For more information on EQT’s drilling operations, visit our Shale Map App.
Pike County resident Alex Lotorto, who says he’s not a member of Marcellus Earth First!, but joined the rally, says two people have climbed trees and strung cables across an access road in such a way that cutting them would cause the tree climbers to fall and face serious injury or even death. Lotorto says state police are on the scene.
“Police interaction has been courteous and respectful,” says Lotorto. ”We want to make this safe as possible.”
A state police officer reached by phone at the Dubois, Pa. office would not provide any information. The Moshannon State Forest spans three counties, but the protest is in the Clearfield County section of the forest.Lotoro said a group of protestors had dragged logs and branches from the forest to build blockades across the access road the night before the protest. A sign hanging from the site reads “Marcellus Earth First, no fracking no compromise.” Earth First! is an environmental activist group that uses direct action and is primarily known for protesting logging in forests along the West Coast. The group often employs the tactic of climbing into trees to stop industrial activity and call attention to their cause.
Janis Copenhaver lives near Big Run, Jefferson County, not too far from the drill site. Reached by phone, Copenhaver said she didn’t know anything about the action until she overheard others in her town talking about it.
“I wish I had the time and gumption to do this,” said Copenhaver. “But I have to have a fulltime job, pay a mortgage, and take care of my animals. I appreciate it when someone else is trying to defend the earth and the life I love living.”
Copenhaver said it took her two hours to find the protesters on a remote access road in the forest. She says she plans to bring food and water up the mountain.
“I can’t be up there hanging from a tree,” said Copenhaver, “but I’ll do what I can.”
Copenhaver says she worries about gas drilling’s impact on her water. She says another drill rig sits about 600 yards from her drinking water well and she gets her water tested every two weeks. Lately, she says the salinity, and the amount of total dissolved solids have increased.
“It’s just too frightening, so I started buying bottled water yesterday,” said Copenhaver.
Drilling for natural gas in state forests is controversial. Although the state has leased out mineral rights in state forests since 1947, the Marcellus Shale boom has meant a rapid expansion of industrial activity on state land. More than 700,000 acres of forest land have already been leased – about twenty percent of that for Marcellus pads. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources predicts more than 1,000 drilling rigs may dot the forests, once production is at full capacity. Many feared Gov. Corbett would expand drilling in the forests, but his 2012-2013 budget did not include any plans to lease out additional state forest land for natural gas drilling.