Protesters descend on Wolf’s Pittsburgh office to clear the air on methane

Observer-Reporter - Washington County News

By Rick Shrum

April 26, 2017

An environmental group and several supporters raised a stink – literally – about air pollution outside Gov. Tom Wolf’s Pittsburgh office Wednesday afternoon.

“Accountability is what this is about. Who should be accountable, the industry or Governor Wolf?” asked Lois Bower-Bjornson of Scenery Hill, the lead speaker at a rally outside the governor’s Piatt Place office downtown.

Bower-Bjornson is a member of Clean Air Council, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that organized the rally. She was among about a dozen people who gathered to urge the Democratic governor to keep his promise to implement standards on emissions of methane and other air pollution at existing oil and gas operations.

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It was one of five CAC show-of-support events at Wolf regional offices Wednesday. The governor upset a number of Pennsylvanians during a Facebook Live Town Hall, when he said he instituted methane emissions standards, which is counter to their impression that he has not taken action.

“On April 24, a few days ago, Governor Wolf said he instituted methane emissions standards that (he believes) are among the strongest in the country,” said Bower-Bjornson, a mother of four who said she and her family are surrounded by 33 well pads with eight to 10 wells on each, plus a compressor station.

“People like myself and my family, living in shale fields, would like to thank the governor for proposing his four-point methane plan to hold industry accountable for common-sense standards that would be a win-win for all parties. Simply by capturing methane that has leaked at every stage of oil and gas operations, communities like mine would benefit from breathable air, capturing volatile organic compounds and creating more profit for industry with clean methane-mitigation jobs for workers.

“Yet since of January (of 2016), almost a year and a half (after Wolf’s initial announcement), there are no standards. None of any kind.”

Bower-Bjornson was one of five speakers, three of whom are from three Washington County. Rena Moore of Canonsburg and Jane Worthington of Robinson Township also addressed the small crowd, as did Protect Our Children’s Gillian Graber, a resident of Trafford, Westmoreland County, and Jill Kriesky of Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Project.

The rally lasted about 15 minutes. Afterward, Clean Air Council members met elsewhere in Pittsburgh with Susan Malone, Southwest Regional director of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Malone could not be reached for comment.

Moore said she has lived in this area for 25 years but grew up in “Chemical Valley” in West Virginia, “in an area now considered a cancer cluster.”

“What I find most astonishing,” she said, “is that decades and even a century later, we’ve learned nothing. We’ve not learned from our mistakes. We’ve not limited or tethered corporate greed, and in some cases have actually removed some of those tetherings.

“In the case of the oil and gas industry, we’ve not imposed any environmental regulations. It’s unfortunate that corporations, made up of people, cannot be trusted to do right thing. We look to the governor, Senator (Bob) Casey and Mr. (U.S. Sen. Pat) Toomey to do the right thing, to protect our land, our water, our health and our children.”

Saying she is a mom, grandmother and foster mother, Worthington talked about her 13-year-old daughter, a Fort Cherry School District student she said “has been benzene-exposed since she was 10. She’s suffered through bloody noses, gastrointestinal disturbance, rashes and swollen joints to the point where her joints locked up with her pencil in her hand at school.”

She said the school “is surrounded” by about 24 wells and that Robinson has more than 500 developed wells.

“We live in the heart of Frackland,” Worthington said. “We call on Governor Wolf to please, after a year and half of promises, come through with his four-point plan. We ask him to listen to moms, doctors, the American Medical Association and other concerned citizens and do the right thing.

“Governor Wolf, are you listening to us?”

Graber said she is a mother and, simply, “would like Governor Wolf to protect our children.

“Two years ago, we found out that two (well) pads were proposed for the Penn-Trafford School District. Now there are eight, and they’re near homes, schools and playgrounds. Our children have a right to clean air and pure water, a constitutional right to clean air and water.”

Kriesky said simply, “Our health is inherently dependent on the health of our environment. Polluting our region pollutes our bodies, and this has to stop.”

The event closed with Bower-Bjornson directing participants to open bags of polluted air, collected in Washington and Westmoreland counties, outside Wolf’s local office.

“Push hard (on the bags),” she said. “Release it so you can sample some of our fabulous air pollution.”

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