Seven Arrested at Pennsylvania Pipeline Planning Meeting

In Pennsylvania's Marcellus shale, the push to build out pipeline infrastructure that would transport gas and oil is meeting growing grassroots resistance, with protesters disrupting a meeting of Governor Tom Wolf's Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force yesterday.

Seven people, who described themselves as frontline residents of shale drilling regions, were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct after interrupting the public comment portion of the Task Force's final meeting. That task force is expected to issue 184 recommendations for streamlining the pipeline permitting process and mitigating impacts of construction in a 335-page report.

Over the next decade, roughly 30,000 miles of pipeline could be constructed in Pennsylvania, the state projects, part of a national pipeline build-out that has followed in the wake of the shale drilling rush.

“The proposed massive and unprecedented buildout of fracked gas pipelines across the commonwealth makes us all front line communities,” Betsy Conover from Dauphin County near the proposed Mariner East pipelines, said in a statement. “Every single county in the state will be impacted.”

While the federal government Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration regulates pipelines after they are constructed, pipeline construction permitting is largely regulated at the state and local levels.

Those arrested at the state hearing yesterday said that their concerns included not only the ecological harms from pipeline construction, but also the hazards associated with promoting further expansion of fracking. In June, neighboring New York state officially banned the type of fracking used for shale gas extraction, citing “significant adverse impacts to land, air, water, natural resources and potential significant public health impacts that cannot be adequately mitigated.”

Grassroots organizers in Pennsylvania say they are concerned about many of those same problems in their communities, as well as the impact of methane emissions from shale gas infrastructure on the climate.

“People around the state and the region are hurt by toxic fracking, harmful air pollution, and dangerous infrastructure,” said Elizabeth Arnold, an organizer with Encouraging the Development of a Green Economy, who was one of the seven arrested. “Globally the fracked gas pipelines exacerbate climate change, displacing people and costing trillions of in damages from severe weather.”

The Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force has previously come under fire from good governance organizations, which focused on the composition of its 48-member panel.

A report by the Public Accountability Initiative assessed the independence of the Task Force. “92% of the non-governmental members of the task force have oil and gas industry ties, or 23 out of 25 non-governmental task force members,” the group wrote. “When governmental representatives are included, individuals with oil and gas industry ties are in the majority on the panel – 54%, or 26 of the 48 members.”

This drew the ire of the protesters at the hearing on Wednesday. “The Task Force has consistently excluded voices of frontline community members,” the group wrote in a statement.

Representatives of the shale drilling industry have praised the Task Force, arguing it that a lack of infrastructure has meant that oil and gas are waiting for delivery to market.

“These projects are absolutely crucial, especially given the fact that more than 1,500 wells have been drilled and completed and are awaiting pipeline takeaway access,” David Spigelmyer, Marcellus Shale Coalition President, told PennLive.

The Task Force is expected to send its final report to the governor in early February.

Photo Credit: Andrew Geller