Organic Farmer and Shadbush Collective protest development of natural gas well on neighboring farm, 2012-2013.

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Timing
Time Period:  
10 November
2012
to
27 January
2013
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Lawrence County, Pennsylvania
Location Description: 
rural farmland in western Pennsylvania, outside of Pittsburgh
Goals: 
Maggie and Dale Henry, along with the Shadbush Collective, aimed to prevent development of a natural gas well on a farm one-mile from the Henry property.
 

Maggie Henry and her husband Dale have managed an 88-acre organic farm in North Beaver Township, Lawrence County—located in western Pennsylvania—for the past three decades. The Henry’s produce pork, poultry and eggs, and service Pittsburg area restaurants.

In early 2012, Shell began development of a hydraulic fracturing well for extracting natural gas on the neighboring farm, owned by Tom Kephart, less than a mile from the Henry property. Maggie Henry was concerned about the impact this well might have on her livestock and organic license. She worried that gas could leak to the surface and pollute water supplies through the one thousand abandoned wells in Lawrence County.

Henry’s mother-in-law, who owned the farm until her death, had signed a mineral rights lease with Shell in 2006 that covered most of the Henry farm. Although Shell had not yet pursued gas extraction on the Henry farm, the lease generated $260 annually.

Over the summer, Henry filed a case with the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board, with assistance from the Pittsburgh University Environmental Law Center, to oppose the Kephart well. To support their testimony, the Henrys hired Pittsburgh hydro-geologist Daniel Fisher to review the potential risk to their farm. Fisher claimed that the 200 uncapped wells in the North Beaver Township posed an unreasonable risk, and concluded that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection should not have approved the Kephart well site. Henry’s attorneys filed for appeal and successfully delayed development of the Kephart well for one month. In August, attorneys reached an out-of-court settlement with Shell, which Henry reluctantly agreed to accept. The details of the settlement cannot be reported, but Henry claimed to regret her decision.

Over the first two weeks of September 2012, Shell workers began drilling of the well shaft on the Kephart farm. In September, Henry established a relationship with the Shadbush Collective, a regional activist group focused on environmental issues and fuel extraction. Over the weekend of 10-12 November, Shadbush organized a retreat to the Henry farm titled the Shalefield Justice Camp. Some 100 individuals attended, and Shadbush led a series of lectures on hydraulic fracturing and direct action techniques. The retreat concluded on the 12th, when 35 participants formed a blockade and picketed in the entrance to the Kephart well pad, preventing the movement of Shell vehicles. The demonstration captured the attention of drivers-by; several paused to learn more, while others shouted their disapproval of the protest. Police and private security arrived to the scene, but demonstrators disbanded before arrests could begin.

During the week following the blockade, Shell business communication manager, Kimberly Windon, publicly stated that the concerns of the protesters were unfounded. Windon explained that Shell had examined the Henry property for abandoned wells, and she claimed that there was no cause for concern. Furthermore, Windon emphasized that the Kephart well was in an exploratory stage and had not yet proceeded to extraction.

At the start of 2013, the Kephart well began flaring for several weeks, indicating that extraction had begun. On 27 January 2013, The Henrys and activists from Shadbush Collective placed a nine-foot tall paper mache pig in the entrance of the Kephart well. Four protesters chained themselves to the legs of the pig, and over 20 supporters joined in obstructing access to the well pad. Pennsylvania state troopers arrived at the site in the afternoon. Protestors peacefully negotiated an end to the occupation, and the police made no arrests.

The demonstration received national media coverage. One activist wrote a solidarity song titled “Maggie’s Farm,” a play on the Bob Dylan song of the same name. Shell spokeswoman Kimberly Windon responded to the demonstration with a public statement, claiming that Shell would take all precautions to protect residents.

Tom Kephart told media that he was not angry with protesters, but he felt that they were interfering with his right to manage his property. While Maggie Henry has remained active in natural gas protest demonstrations throughout Pennsylvania, no further actions specifically against the Kephart well are known. As of May 2014, it appears that Shell continues to operate the Kephart well site.

Research Notes
Sources: 
“Lockdown! Farms & Food, Not Fracking!” 27 January 2013.

“Farm Supporters Lock Down to Giant Pig at Fracking Well-Site: Highlight Risks to Safe Food,” 27 January 2012.

“Fracking, old wells have local farmer worried.” Tiffany Wolfe for The Ledger. 6 February 2013

http://www.ellwoodcityledger.com/news/local_news/fracking-old-wells-have-local-farmer-worried/article_b4106b22-41bf-5e7f-bcd7-c3dd615627f3.html?mode=story

Phillips, Susan. “Ain’t Gonna Frack On Maggie’s Farm No More.” 28 January 2013.

http://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/2013/01/28/aint-gonna-frack-on-maggies-farm-no-more/

Shalefield Action Camp. 3 December 2012. http://shadbushcollective.org/633/

“Shell addresses concerns for Henry organic farm.” New Castle News. 17 November 2012.

http://www.ncnewsonline.com/shale/x983001946/Shell-addresses-concerns-for-Henry-organic-farm/print

Deitch, Charlie. “Shaky Ground: Farmer fears for future as gas drilling begins near scores of abandoned well sites.” http://www.pghcitypaper.com/pittsburgh/shaky-ground-farmer-fears-for-future-as-gas-drilling-begins-near-scores-of-abandoned-well-sites/Content?oid=1567222

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Hayden Dahmm 15/05/2014