Mountain Justice Spring Break ends in protest at fracking company headquarters

Anti-fracking Protest with local landowners-EQT Offices, March 28 2012

On the morning of Wednesday, March 26, more than 30 anti-fracking activists from across West Virginia and Appalachia picketed the Bridgeport, West Virginia, office of EQT Energy. The group of activists were supporting two landowners, Eileen and Jim Burke, who came from Doddridge County to try and meet with officials about concerns they had about about EQT’s shale gas operations near their property.

Hydraulic Fracturing, commonly called fracking, is a controversial
method of natural gas extraction that involves injecting millions of
gallons of chemical-laden water deep underground in order to shatter the
bedrock and release the gas.

Eileen said that after setting up an appointment with a company
representative, they found the doors locked. The company representative,
Tim Groves, told the Burkes that he wasn’t allowed to speak with them.
Police were called and the Burkes were escorted outside, where activists
held a giant banner that read “Stop Fracking: Clean Water is a Human
Right”. The protestors chanted and held signs for passing traffic for
the following thirty minutes.

Eileen said that she had not come to cause trouble, but wanted to
talk to EQT about her concerns for the safety of her family: “I worked
as a schoolteacher and we made so many sacrifices to get here. I don’t
see myself as just an environmentalist–but especially as a mother who
wants her kids to inherit the beautiful land and precious water that’s
now being ruined by gas and greed. Is making sure your children inherit
clean water too much to ask?” The Burkes are concerned that they do not
know which chemicals were used in the fracking process, and they
recounted an experience where an EQT truck had caught on fire in front
of their house in the middle of the night. Eileen spoke of how worried
she had been about the possibility of an explosion, and how the company
has done little to explain what happened or to guarantee her family’s
security.

Eileen also commented that people in her community who have been
affected by the gas drilling are under a great deal of pressure to not
speak out. “The gas man who comes around here puts his hand on his heart
and talks to us like we have a patriotic duty to allow this, as if
we’re threatening national security if we speak our minds. It’s a
routine speech that all my neighbors have seen. But to me, patriotism
involves the practice of protecting people and the environment, and that
shows the ultimate love of our country.”

David Baghdadi, 35, who currently lives in Rock Creek, West Virginia,
said that he was inspired to attend the protest after visiting fracking
sites in neighboring Doddridge County and listening to personal impact
stories from local families. “Many local residents don’t own their
mineral rights and are powerless to watch as gas companies erect well
pads, storage tanks and compressor stations on their lands. A lot of
people have had their water go bad after the gas industry moved in, and
many of them can’t afford to move because having fracking operations
nearby can destroy your property value. We’re here today to take a stand
for justice, and to show concerned citizens in this community that they
are not alone in this.”

The protest, following a week-long Mountain Justice Spring Break, was
planned by Mountain Justice, a group that organizes citizens of the
Appalachian region to fight against mountaintop removal mining. A number
of Mountain Justice protestors came from the southern coalfields of
West Virginia and were eager to draw a connection between fracking and
mountaintop removal. A representative of Mountain Justice commented, “In
a state that has been devastated for over a hundred years by the coal
industry, we refuse to let another extraction industry profit from the
destruction of our mountains’ waters and communities. These are our most
valuable resources, and the future of Appalachia deserves to be
protected.”

“Before you make a decision about fracking, do your research,” said
Doddridge County Resident, Mirijana Beram. “We already have a bad track
record for natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. We’re having our
water polluted with serious toxins, yet we don’t even know what to test
it for because the fracking companies aren’t obligated to disclose the
chemicals they’re injecting into the ground. How can you trust any
industry that can inject carcinogens deep under your home and doesn’t
even have to tell you about them?”

The demonstration lasted approximately 90
minutes with many cars honking in support of the picketers. A few of
the smaller signs read, “Question Fracking”, “Water & Mountains
Matter More Than Gas” with a high school student holding up a sign that
read, “Please Don’t Frack My Future.” Protestors said they hope their
actions will help start a conversation across West Virginia around the
perils of fracking the Marcellus Shale.

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