Concerned citizens of Western Pennsylvania and friends of Lawrence County farmer Maggie Henry recently locked themselves to a giant paper-mache pig at the entrance to a Shell Oil Co. natural gas well site to protest the company’s threat to local agriculture and food safety. The newly-constructed gas well is located less than 4,000 feet from Henry’s organic pig farm.
The farm has been in the Henry family for generations and has been maintained as a small business despite pressure from industry consolidation. The Henry’s made a switch from dairy to organic pork and poultry production several years ago as part of their commitment to keeping the operation safe and sustainable for generations to come. Joining Maggie Henry at the well site are residents from other Pennsylvania counties affected by natural gas drilling and Pittsburgh-area residents of all ages who support Henry’s fight. Many are customers who buy her food at farmers’ markets and grocery stores who do not want to see the integrity of their food source compromised.
The Henry farm is especially vulnerable to the risk associated with fracking because it is located in an area riddled with hundreds of abandoned oil wells from the turn of the 20th century. According to hydro-geologist Daniel Fisher who has studied the area, “Each of these abandoned wells is a potentially direct pathway or conduit to the surface should any gas or fluids migrate upward from the wells during or after fracking.” Methane leaks from gas wells have been responsible for numerous explosions in or near residences in Pennsylvania in recent years. Migrating gas and fluids also threaten groundwater supplies, on which Henry and her animals depend for their drinking water. Last summer a major gas leak in Tioga County, PA caused by Shell’s own drilling operations, produced a 30 ft geyser of methane and water, which spewed from an unplugged well and forced several families to evacuate.
Protesters, wearing signs that read "Fracking Threatens Food," and "Protect Farms for Our Future," chained themselves to the nine foot tall pig situated in the driveway of the gas well site, and blocking traffic to and from the site. A few dozen supporters attended the event as well.
Henry resorted to civil disobedience after all avenues within the legal system had been exhausted, and Shell continued on with their operations at the well.