WILKES-BARRE — On Public Square, protesters remembered Earth Day singing songs about the Susquehanna and listing demands for more responsible resource development.
The Green Party of Pennsylvania, an organization that says it promotes transparent government and ecological balance, brought together about 45 people opposing hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to challenge the state Department of Environmental Protection’s commitment to its namesake — environmental protection.
Fracking is a way to extract natural gas trapped inside the Marcellus Shale rock formation that runs miles deep below most of this state.
“I’m very suspect of this toxic soup … creating a chemically induced earthquake,” Green Party member Carl Romanelli said of the rock-breaking technique that uses water mixed with additives sent through the rock at high pressure.
Chemical additives make up only about 2 percent of fracturing-water solutions depending on geology; however, a few million gallons of solution might be used at a single well during its lifetime.
Developing technology now allows much of the flowback, about 90 percent of it that rushes back up the drill hole, to be recycled and used again. Drillers who recycle need to draw less fresh water from local sources if they recycle. Still, much of it is lost deep in the Marcellus.
Some protesters waved their signs toward the DEP’s regional office along Public Square. The protest was part of a statewide effort at six regional offices that more than 60 organizations got involved in Monday.
Kevin Sunday, DEP deputy press secretary, said allegations that the department does not work transparently and scientifically when conducting field tests are the result of a misconception.
“I think that speaks to some misunderstanding to how we do our testing,” Sunday said.
When a water supply’s integrity is challenged, Sunday said, the DEP’s lab technicians apply a battery of tests similar to human blood tests, seeking specific contaminants that may leech into the ground from industry negligence. He said all verified reports, upon completion, are relayed immediately to those individuals supposing drilling-related contamination.
While the first part of the test relies on a machine to scan samples for contaminants, all relevant elements that point toward contamination found are further tested and verified.
Concerning injured-party defense, Sunday said the department holds companies responsible if they cause environmental harm based on state regulations. The department has authority to file civil cases, but it refers criminal cases to the state Attorney General’s Office.
The protesters demanded that the state:
• Appoint an environmental expert to DEP’s secretary position, not a lawyer or anyone invested in the industry.
• Call for a moratorium on natural-gas wells, compressor stations, pipelines, water withdrawals, coal mines and other fossil-fuel extraction functions.
• Offer full disclosure to DEP studies.
• Provide justice for those who are harmed by the fossil-fuel industry.
• Reopen the department’s Office of Energy and Technology Deployment to develop renewable energy sources.
Sunday said the Office of Energy and Technology Deployment still exists but under a different name. The Office of Pollution Prevention and Energy Assistance offers incentives for environmentally savvy decisions, such as a rebate program for hybrid-car buyers and a near $7.5 million pool to help homeowners and businesses buy solar panels.
At the protest, however, speakers said the United States is far behind the German and Danish energy solutions that exemplify how this country should seek non-fossil-fuel energy sources. The two countries are working toward renewable, environmentally benign energy sources and making great strides, they said. Denmark meets almost half of its energy needs with wind power, and Germany, a generally cloudy country with only about 13 million citizens, uses more solar panels than the entire United States, home to about 300 million citizens.
Diane Drier, a member of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, said that for United States to stay abreast of developing energy sources, it must develop non-fossil-fuel solutions.
“The past belongs to fossil fuels. The future belongs to renewable energy,” Drier said.
Jay Sweeney, a committee chair member of the Green Party, made the group’s opinion of fracking clear when he addressed the department.
“DEP, we’re willing to work with you to achieve these goals. But we’re not willing to work with you to continue fracking.” he said.