Energy. Environment. Economy.

Philadelphia, The Grassroots Anti-Fracking Movement’s New Old Front

Elizabeth Arnold of the Shalefield Organizing Committee protests outside the Marcellus Shale Conference by following attendees around with a word bubble sign.

Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

Elizabeth Arnold of the Shalefield Organizing Committee protests outside the Marcellus Shale Conference by following attendees around with a word bubble sign.

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.

Protecting Our Waters protests outside the Marcellus Shale Coalition's annual industry conference.

Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

Protecting Our Waters protests outside the Marcellus Shale Coalition's annual industry conference.

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.”


  • ConcernedPhiladelphian

    It should also be noted that Blank Rome is the new home of Michael
    Krancer, who was the head of PA Department of Environmental Protection
    until just April.

    The revolving door spins fast!

  • Iris Marie Bloom

    “Freedom from Fracking 2013″ — the third year of the counter-conference — included over 21 speakers, including John Fenton of Pavilion, Wyoming, and 120 participants. Sixty-five organizations from all over “shale country” endorsed it, and it followed upon a press conference and Water Send-off that morning, with clean replacement water ultimately going not only to Susquehanna and Bradford Counties but to Butler County and Washington County in western Pennsylvania. Since a majority of Pennsylvanians now support a moratorium, we expect Philadelphia — which aims to be a Green City — to fight back hard against further toxic, climate-destroying oil and gas development.

    That Bakken shale oil coming by rail through Philly is the same fuel, carried by the same type of train that exploded and killed people in Lac Megantec, Canada.

    That horrible smell over by the Platt Bridge, which you can also smell at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum these days, depending which way the wind is blowing — that’s new. Benzene and other carcinogens are in the mix. “Philadelphia Energy Solutions” is flaring 24/7 now. That’s the ultimate double-speak name for a refinery that’s creating more health and safety problems every day.

  • Patrick Henderson

    The impacts of “fracking” – media pseudonym for advancing American energy independence – is being felt directly in Southeastern PA from the thousands of jobs, and tens of thousands of indirect and induced jobs, being supported through the continued operation of Pennsylvania’s three southeast refineries, particularly at the south Philadelphia refinery. Those trains mean thousands of families with good-paying jobs, and reduced reliance on foreign sources of energy, particularly imported oil.
    Fortunately, strong, bipartisan leadership, at the city, county, state and federal level – with strong support and leadership from both unions and management and visionary investors and entrepreneurs – represents the sort of “everyone buying in” that we need more of…kudos to all involved in helping to sustain the American dream for another generation of Pennsylvanians.
    Patrick Henderson, Energy Executive
    Office of Gov. Tom Corbett

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