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Fracking Opponents Make Their Voices Heard at Pennsylvania Governor’s Inauguration

Posted Jan. 28, 2015

MP3 Pennsylvania mother Penni Lechner and the Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum

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On Jan. 20, Democrat Tom Wolf was inaugurated governor of Pennsylvania, after his November defeat of incumbent Republican Tom Corbett. While taking more progressive stands than his predecessor on several issues, his support for natural gas fracking differs from Corbett's only in that he says he wants to "make it safer" and charge a tax on the gas that companies extract, earmarking the funds for the state's education budget. He describes his stand on fracking as "having his cake and eating it, too."

But many Pennsylvania residents who claim to have already been deeply harmed by fracking want a total ban on the extraction method – owing to negative health effects, dramatically increased pollution and truck traffic. Many residents also say they can't sell their homes due to their property’s proximity to fracking infrastructure.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus traveled to Pennsylvania to cover the inauguration and interviewed several fracking opponents. Penni Lechner is the mother of a 9-year-old daughter who is a survivor of childhood leukemia. Here, she explains how fracking has impacted her life and why she was planning to confront Gov. Wolf at the post-inauguration reception held at the governor's mansion.

During Gov. Wolf’s inauguration ceremony, activists with Pennsylvanians Against Fracking kept up a constant chant of "Ban Fracking Now!" Eight protesters were arrested. At the post-inauguration reception, Penni Lechner and her daughter briefly met governor Wolf and told their story. He promised to set up a meeting with them, something anti-fracking activists have been trying to do for months. This report was produced by Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus.

PENNI LECHNER AND MAYA VAN ROSSUM: We're hoping that we can tell the governor that our water is bad and he is obviously unable to regulate fracking because my water would not be bad if they were regulating it properly.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And when you say your water's bad, what's the problem?

PENNI LECHNER: There's manganese, arsenic, methane in my water. My 9-year-old daughter has seen my water light on fire.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What are you doing?

PENNI LECHNER: We buy water. I still take a shower in it. It irritated her skin. A paramedic actually called it a chemical reaction, so for over a year she has not showered at our house. She goes to friends' houses, my grandmother's house. For washing hands, we have a pump thing on a five-gallon water bottle that we use to wash our hands, and that's what we cook with, that's what we use to drink.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And who pays for that?

PENNI LECHNER: We do. We pay for it all.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Has it been traced to any particular activity, the problem with your water?

PENNI LECHNER: No. The DEP ruled it was not the gas and oil drilling's fault.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And what do you think?

PENNI LECHNER: I think that it was fine and we used it every day before they started drilling. And when they started drilling it started to change; it started to smell funny; it started to make us itchy. I really don't know what to think, other than it was okay before they moved into my back yard.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What goes on and how close is it to you?

PENNI LECHNER: There are 25 wells within two miles of my home; there's three or four well pads. They've came in and they've drilled horizontally and they've fracked the wells, and it was when they were fracking the one well that our water changed abruptly and it hurt her skin.

BETWEEN THE LINES: How close is the closest one?

PENNI LECHNE: They're all less than two miles from me, I don't know exactly.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Since I talked to you in early September – that was four months ago, I guess – has anything changed, one way or the other?

PENNI LECHNER: No, other than they're still going, harder than ever.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, there's still a lot of activity all around you.

PENNI LECHNER: Yes.

BETWEEN THE LINES: When the DEP ruled that it wasn't the gas industry's fault, given what you've described, why did they say it wasn't, or....

PENNI LECHNER: They did not give me a reason at all. So we went to our supervisors and currently I have a lawyer representing me trying to figure out what, who, happened. I don't know if it interests you, but I have an air monitor in my home...

BETWEEN THE LINES: Oh, yeah, tell me.

PENNI LECHNER: ... from the Southwestern Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project. And when they were working on the most recent well pad, there's levels of "good," "moderate," "unhealthy for sensitive groups," "unhealthy," "very unhealthy" and "hazardous." It has reached "hazardous," and it has been at "very unhealthy" and "hazardous" most of the time they were working. My daughter, who cyber-schools – I kept her home from that school because of that well pad; she's still affected. She had headaches that whole entire month. She was sick. Her and I both lost our voices. And for about a month now, there hasn't been any activity. I'm not sure what they're waiting for or doing, but the air with them not working has not gone above "moderate," our headaches have ceased, we got our voices back, and we're feeling better.

MAYA VAN ROSSUM: So, we are here today to welcome Gov. Wolf to Harrisburg and to the governor's office, but we are also here to tell him that we expect him to protect our environmental rights, to protect the rights of the children who are here today and the children who are yet to come, to be able to drink healthy water, breathe healthy air, eat healthy food grown in healthy soils, to be free from the devastating storms and droughts of climate change, to be able to experience and enjoy the awesomeness of a healthy, mature, unfractured forest, to be able to witness the passing of a wild animal living free and unimpeded by gas wells and pipelines. We are here today to tell Gov. Wolf that we expect him to reject shale gas, to instead embrace and invest in clean energy options, because that is what he must do to fulfill his moral obligation and his constitutional obligation to protect our inherent rights to pure water, clean air and a healthy environment – to protect these rights for those of us who are here today and for the generations of people, families and children yet to come. (Applause)

For more information on the campaign to stop natural gas fracking in Pennsylvania and around the country, visit Pennsylvanians Against Fracking at www.paagainstfracking.org.

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