by Nancy Lowry / New Castle News
NEW CASTLE — A protest to draw attention to fracking practices of Shell Oil ended yesterday without arrests.
Wearing signs proclaiming “Fracking Threatens Food” and “Protect Farms for our Future,” four protesters locked arms and chained themselves to a nine-foot papier-mâché pig which was positioned to obstruct traffic to and from the gas well site off Route 108 in North Beaver Township.
Only the pig was taken into custody.
About 40 protesters from western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio gathered at Maggie Henry’s 88-acre organic farm to challenge the presence of a Shell natural gas well. The rig is 4,100 feet from the organic farm where Henry raises chickens, pigs, turkeys and cows and crops. She said she supplies Pittsburgh-based restaurants and food co-ops.
Henry and the others claim the well is a threat to local agriculture and food safety.
Protesters were warned that they could assemble until 4:30 p.m. After that, they were told, anyone still at the scene could be arrested. Police cars representing North Beaver and Pulaski townships and the state police were present.
At the end of the day, no one was arrested. Henry said the pig, which was named “Henrietta,” was pulled into the drilling site.
“We chanted ‘Free Henrietta’ for a while, but they wouldn’t let it go,” Henry said.
She noted that the pig not only symbolizes the Henry family’s organic pig farm but also “the gas industry is piggish about the carbon-based fuel in the ground and are taking it at our expense,” Henry said.
The protesters claim that hydraulic fracturing — called “fracking” — endangers water quality and supply.
“Fracking” involves injecting fluids under ground at a high pressure to fracture shale rocks to release their natural gas.
The farm, in Henry’s family for four generations, switched from dairy to organic pork and poultry production several years ago.
Henry said her farm is vulnerable to risks associated with fracking because the area is riddled with abandoned oil and gas wells drilled between 1901 and 1906.
“Shell doesn’t agree, but U.S. Geological Survey maps bear me out,” she said. “There are 26 abandoned wells on the property.”
Each well, she said, is potentially a direct pathway to the surface should any gas or fluids migrate upward from the wells during or after fracking.
Methane leaking from gas wells has resulted in explosions in recent years and threatens ground water supplies she adds.
A press release issued by the protesters states that last summer, a major gas leak in Tioga County, Pa., said to have been caused by a Shell drilling operation, produced a 30-foot methane and water geyser from an unplugged well, forcing several families to evacuate.
In 2006, Henry’s late mother-in-law signed leases with Shell, accepting $3 per acre for drilling rights.
“She did this without our consent or knowledge, and did it even though my husband and I operated the farm for 35 years,” Henry said. She added, “People should be more suspicious when strangers come to their door offering money.”
Attempts to reach Shell officials were unsuccessful.
Several protests have occurred at the site in recent years.