Activists like Southwest Philadelphia resident Iris Bloom say they no longer have to drive several hours to rural Pennsylvania see or even hear the impact of fracking. Trains bringing oil from the Bakken Shale to the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery complex have been keeping her up at night.
“It is coming right past Drexel, right past 30th Street Station on an elevated, old, shaky-looking track and I think it’s putting us all in danger,” she said. “I’m listening to those train whistles all night long, so this is a really new development.”
Bloom is the director of Protecting Our Waters, one of several Philadelphia-based grassroots groups fighting the development of natural gas in Pennsylvania and beyond.
The movement began in this region with the fight for a moratorium on fracking in the Delaware River watershed. It has since branched out to the places where the drilling is actually going on, like Dimock, Susquehanna County and Towanda, Bradford County.
But now, the impacts are hitting home again. The Freedom From Fracking conference led by activists like Bloom in Philadelphia Thursday devoted an entire workshop to new developments in the Philadelphia area including a proposed natural gas liquids pipeline to nearby Marcus Hook and plans to privatize the city’s utility, the Philadelphia Gas Works.
Delaware Riverkeeper Maya Van Rossum told the crowd of roughly 40 people who gathered at the Friends Center in Center City that for the first time in the shale drilling boom, industry leaders are setting their sights on Philadelphia.
“The way you get support is to get everybody to buy in,” she said.
Freedom From Fracking is a counter-event to the annual Shale Insight conference held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition first brought the conference to Philadelphia in 2011 in order to bring the positive messages of shale gas development out of the gas fields. Next year, the gathering will move to Pittsburgh just as the conversation has begun to shift to the city’s role in the growing industry. Blank Rome, an influential local law firm, sponsored a well-attended panel discussion on Wednesday about the revival of Philadelphia’s refineries.
Rather than discouraging environmentalists, Bloom says it has set grassroots groups like hers on new paths to take on the industry.
“We have a lot of fronts opening up here and it’s an exciting moment.”