An essay on environmental concerns in the Susquehanna Region and beyond- By Brian Keeler
A group of us formed an organization a couple of years ago called Protect Northern PA out of our shared concern for preserving the beauty of the Susquehanna Region, and insuring the safety of the residents in this area and beyond. We are not living in isolated little areas- the decisions made by our local governments truly have implications for millions of other Pennsylvanians and indeed all of the eastern states, and globally as well.
This advocacy came about from witnessing a decade of natural gas development and a flood-tide of related industries invading the northeast of Pennsylvania. I use the term invading, as it has seemed like an invading army of industrial exploiters was given free-reign to run amok in the region. The most recent development that galvanized our efforts was an extreme ratcheting up of the dangers and desecration from the proposed LNG in Wyalusing, PA and now, even more insidious, the smaller versions of these operations. The 265 acre LNG plant has not developed further in over a year- which is hopefully indicating forces at work to stymie this operation.
So I thought an update would be necessary here for some personal reasons but also to keep abreast of the fast developments and changes.
Well, for starters, I have had the opportunity or perhaps the misfortune of seeing the opinions of the other side- namely the industry advocates, workers and supporters of fracking. My small contribution to our group is to take care of postings on our Facebook page, which offers news on seminars, webinars, recent news articles and reports on various aspects of our concerns. Occasionally, I will boost a particularly important item to get more coverage beyond our immediate group. This is when the onslaught of ignorance and mean-spirited comments come flooding in. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot (for them) as these glib short-sighted jabs are rife with inaccuracies often perpetuating industry falsehoods. This supports the idea that if you repeat a lie long enough people will begin to believe it and accept it. These comments often come in with obscenities all in capital letters. They often traffic in stereotypes and monger in fear and then fray into right wing diatribes unrelated to the issues presented.
For example, one fellow who worked as a driller wrote in vociferous denial of how fracking is related to micro plastics in our streams and drinking water. This is a fact that is not exactly a secret as a large “cracker” plant is being built near Pittsburgh. In short, this operation takes fracking gas and turns it directly into plastics, which eventually ends up in our oceans and in our streams. This aspect of fracking undermines the oft-repeated falsehood that natural gas in PA is for energy independence. Further, one does not need to be an expert to understand that the LNG from Wyalusing is planned for shipment to overseas markets via the proposed export facility across the Delaware River from Philadelphia.
These rebuttals to our posts are often filled with wild tangents that reflect what I suppose is the stuff of the right wing conspiracy lunacies such as the QAnon crowd, or the Fox News crew etc. I repeat them here just to show how wacko they can be. One fellow said that we were probably advocating for the train operators that would transport LNG to wear facemasks too! Say what? Another veered into so called slave traffic at our southern border as a more worthy cause. I am sure no one is keen on promoting slavery, but really, can we separate our apples and oranges. I am suspecting that this human-traffic issue is a hot-issue topic among the right wing, but it seems like a leftover result of Trump era xenophobia and racism.
Some of the other perpetuated falsehoods include – that shipping LNG is no different than transporting natural gas which has been going on for years. Or that natural gas is the least carbon-emitting of all the energy sources. Or that Pennsylvanians and Americans should consider pipelines as an alternative to shipping LNG by truck or rail.
The regional press stance and coverage is woefully inadequate, so much so that I would call it obsequious. I would go further, to say that not presenting the facts in full comes close to criminal. as thousands of lives could be lost in a mishap of shipping LNG. The news articles that I have seen have never once mentioned the extreme dangers of LNG. Further, the articles often repeat the amount of money New Fortress Energy would spend if their LNG plant gets off the ground. This underscores the mindset that flashing the cash is proof of the worth of this abomination. The articles are almost as if taken from the corporate websites with nary a mention or quote from an expert that would offer an opposing view. One would also think that destruction of our environmental safety and bulldozing of Wyalusing’s history at Friedenshutten would inspire some kind of reflection.
Even more disconcerting than the regional press’s dearth of reportage is how the government officials and politicians are abetting the natural gas industry. The apathy generally expressed among the residents to the ramifications of the industrialization of our region is equally upsetting.
Well, is our organization making a positive impact? I think yes, especially considering the fact that we work together with other regional organizations like The Delaware River Keeper, FrackTracker, Penn Environment, the Sierra Club and others. We share resources and help in education to get the facts out there. Most recently a publication of the natural gas industry outlined the forces opposed to their expansion and the public opposition to pipelines was one of the main roadblocks. So we can see that everyday people are letting their voices be heard and showing that this type of reckless expansion is not wanted. Each week I learn from our members that many legal challenges are ongoing to oppose the natural gas industry. Most recently there is an outreach to prevent toxic fracking water being shipped and stored in the Delaware River region. Another result of our advocacy is that several municipalities in PA have drafted ordinances to prohibit shipping of LNG through their towns.
The "on-hold" status of the proposed LNG plant of New Fortress Energy could be taken as a good sign and perhaps in some way the result of our efforts. There are many factors at play, including the international demand for LNG. Other positive results include Ireland and France refusing to allow for import of LNG. Our group has networked with our counterparts in Shannon Ireland. So there are actually many ways Protect Northern PA is making a beneficial impact.
These windows into the opposition do show what a clash of cultures and values are at work. There is a common sentiment that fracking is good for landowners and business. I counter, but at what cost? Is it really worth it to see our land desecrated with a vast network of pipelines and thousands of trucks transporting toxic water or worse, now train bombs of LNG? One side sees this as economic development. I see it as a moral transgression that further perpetuates an industry that is moving in the wrong direction. While a good part of the world is moving to address global warming and curtail the fossil fuel industry, there are those who are oblivious or in denial of the science and the facts.
In conclusion to this update on our environmental advocacy, I think it is good for us all to make a stand for our understanding of environmental issues. I for one am proud of the work our members do and the example they offer of living one’s convictions for the benefit of all.