Mountain Justice Spring Break ends in protest at fracking company headquarters

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 hundreds of 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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