Activists protest potential Marcellus shale drilling on Carnegie Museum land

By Marissa Meredyth

Shouts and chanting broke through yesterday’s chilly afternoon air at a small protest in front… Shouts and chanting broke through yesterday’s chilly afternoon air at a small protest in front of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History about potential Marcellus Shale drilling at a nature reserve owned by the museum.

About 25 people showed up at 5 p.m. to discourage the museum’s directors from leasing 2,200 acres of the Powdermill Nature Reserve to gas drilling companies interested in extracting resources from the Marcellus Shale Formation.

The Powdermill Nature Reserve has served as the biological research station for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History for more than 50 years. The Carnegie Museum joined 140 other landowners in Westmoreland County to gain bargaining power in drilling negotiations.

On the corner of Forbes Avenue and Craig Street, six security guards for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History awaited environmental activists during rush hour yesterday after hearing news a protest would occur around 5 p.m.

As reported by the Pittsburgh Post Gazatte last month, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy would prevent a drill rig built directly on the nature reserve, but it would not prevent a drill on nearby property. New horizontal drilling technology would allow a company to reach the shale a mile under the Powdermill Nature Reserve.

Protesters said leasing the land could negatively impact the environment, making any profit on the museum’s part moot.

Representatives from the museum could not be immediately reached for comment last night.

Most concerns involved the poisoning of water resources as a potential result of the use of fracking to extract the gas. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves the pumping of liquid at high pressure into the shale formation to break up the rock, freeing the natural gas.

On Tuesday, the Pittsburgh City Council, which has already banned drilling within city limits, issued a “Will of Council” urging the Board of Trustees of the Carnegie Institute to “reject any and all offers of shale gas exploration and extraction,” according to the City Council’s minutes.

The Council also urged the Trustees “to stay true to its mission” and said that they will help “support them in any and all actions necessary to preserve the natural integrity of the Powdermill Nature Reserve.”

Mel Packer, with the Marcellus Shale Protest, said, “We never said we are against drilling.” The group just worries about the safety of it, he said.

While the majority of those protesting held banners saying, “We can’t drink money!” or “Save Powdermill,” others chanted, “Profits from drilling are thrilling, safety from fracking is lacking.”

A few protesters handed out fliers detailing how toxic chemicals such as benzene, ethylene, toluene and xylene could end up in drinking water.

Seven police officers also showed up to observe the protest, which remained peaceful. The police advised one protester to stay out of the street when she tried to hand fliers to cars passing by.

One motorist shouted, “Drill, baby, drill,” as he passed the protesters.

Two Pitt students joined the predominantly older crowd. Senior Tyler Custer, a math major, expressed concern about why drilling would be allowed in what is supposed to be a conserved space.

“It’s dangerous,” Custer said, fearing contamination of the area.

Environmental studies major Mike Rhodes said he’s heard about the issue in most of his classes.

“It is a hot issue right now,” Rhodes said.

Bystanders paid little attention to the protest, and attempted to walk around the scene with headphones in.

Victoria Sarra, a Pitt student who was waiting for the bus, watched the protest. Sarra said she had heard about drilling in her hometown in the Monongahela valley.

“I’m not really an environmentalist, but I did see the documentary ‘Gasland.’” Sarra said. “Some of the stuff that happens is pretty scary.”