UN World Environment Day: A Sham, An Opportunity

This past weekend marked World Environment Day, a UN-sponsored green washing extravaganza.  The focus event for the Americas in Pittsburgh featured a world record-setting flotilla of kayaks and canoes, a policy-oriented “Water Matters” Conference, a screening of the new doc Gasland, and a lot of signs declaring it World Environment Day.

The ironies abounded – from Coca Cola (notorious for stealing water from impoverished communities in India) and other corporations speaking about water conservation to a celebration of our precious, yet terribly threatened and already oh-so-contaminated three rivers with their sewage overflow, toxic dumping and now unregulated natural gas drilling, called “fracking” in the Marcellus Shale.

It wasn’t all a loss though as we seized the opportunity to call attention to the terror of gas drilling in our state and beyond.  Several residents did a successful on-kayak banner deployment demanding we “Stop Drilling Marcellus” at the flotilla (release below the jump). Members of the Pittsburgh Student Environmental Coalition (PSEC) planned a dance mob that got rained out, but didn’t stop them from collecting petitions and talking to tons of locals about the threat of fracking.  And the capstone was a screening of Gasland (watch this movie!) to a packed house of over 200 people who united in collective anger, frustration and a call for a ban on drilling, at least until substantial regulations are in place.

Overall the day gave us, local residents, an opportunity to elevate the dialog on this terrifying threat to our rivers, drinking water and land, even while allowing for corporations and politicians to flaunt astro-turf green pasted on smiles.

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On World Environment Day, Pittsburgh residents highlight threat to city drinking water
Contingent in record-seeking kayak flotilla displays message against Marcellus Shale drilling

With a banner reading “Our Drinking Water Maters: Stop
Drilling Marcellus” we call for a moratorium on further
Marcellus shale development in Pennsylvania. As Pittsburgh
hosts the U.N. World Environment Day, there is great
public focus on the importance of clean water and on
Pittsburgh’s transition to a green economy. We are deeply
troubled that this dialogue has not addressed the serious
impacts of Marcellus Shale gas drilling on our water,
land, and health.  The scope of its impact across
Pennsylvania is truly enormous, but as yet the public has
little familiarity with the issue.

In the summer of 2009, the Monongahela River exceeded the
safe maximum daily levels for total dissolved solids and
thousands of residents whose drinking water comes from the
river were told not to drink from their taps[1].
Marcellus shale gas drilling caused this pollution.

Across Pennsylvania, the problem is only going to get
worse.  In 2009, 763 Marcellus wells were drilled; over
2000 additional permits have already been granted, and
thousands more are in the works[2].  Each well uses
between 500,000 and 3 million gallons of water[3].  The
water is used to open the gas well, contaminated in the
process with mineral salts and industrial chemicals, then
disposed of back into our rivers and streams.

State and federal regulators are allowing the drilling to
proceed, even though there are no wastewater treatment
facilities in Pennsylvania that are capable of removing
the high levels of mineral salt pollution in the
wastewater[1,4].  Wastewater treatment systems do not
remove the industrial chemicals in the water either, which
have been documented as harmful to human health[5].

Marcellus drilling also poses a grave threat to the health
of aquatic communities.  Disposal of high volumes of
wastewater full of mineral salts, combined with high
levels of water withdrawal, can destroy entire ecosystems,
as exemplified by the disaster in Dunkard Creek in
Southwestern Pennsylvania in the fall of last year. The
wastewater created by Marcellus drilling will inevitably
escalate levels of this same kind of pollution all across
the state.

We wish to correct a public perception, aided by the PR of
drilling companies, that Marcellus shale gas drilling
represents an economic boon for rural communities.  Many
new jobs go to trained rig operators from Texas[6],
royalties for landholders often do not cover depreciation
in property values due to damage caused by drilling, and
increased tax revenues for municipalities promise to last
only a couple years. Meanwhile, rural residents are
subjected to extremely high noise levels, constant vehicle
traffic, and toxic emissions into their air and
water[7,8].  The promised benefits appear increasingly

The BP oil spill in the gulf has taught us that we should
not risk what we cannot clean up.  The same companies
involved in the production chain for the BP well are
involved in the production chain of Marcellus gas wells.
We are calling for a moratorium on Marcellus drilling
because we do not want to see Pennsylvania’s water and
landscape sacrificed carelessly for profit as the Gulf
coast has been. So far the state and federal government
has only paved the way for energy companies to go forward,
without sufficient consideration of the grave health and
environmental consequences of normal operations, much less
the potential risks of technology failures[9].

The promised benefits are illusory, and we do not think
they are worth the sacrifices.  We call instead for
Pennsylvania to make a true shift to a green economy by
investing in the development of renewable energy sources,
rather than accepting the plunder of our natural resources
for short-term payoff.


1. Sapien, Joaquin.  “What can be done with the wastewater”
Pittsburgh Post Gazette.  4 October 2009.
web: 1 June 2010.  http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09277/1002919-113.stm

2. http://extension.psu.edu/naturalgas/news/2010/05/accelerating-activity

3. Pennsylvania Geology vol. 38 number 1.

4. http://www.marcellus-shale.us/drilling_wastewater.htm

5. Colborn, Theo, PhD.  “Introduction”  Chemicals in Natural Gas Operations.

Colborn, Theo, PhD.  What You Need to Know About Natural Gas Production.
Video lecture: available at http://www.endocrinedisruption.com/chemicals.video.php

6. “Where are all the Marcellus Shale jobs?” by Bill Toland,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Friday, April 09, 2010.

7. http://www.donnan.com/Marcellus-Gas_Hickory.htm

8. http://dearsusquehanna.blogspot.com/2009/05/faces-of-dimock.html

9. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Marcellus_Shale#The_.22Halliburton_loophole.22

4 Responses to “UN World Environment Day: A Sham, An Opportunity”

  1. 1 Kim Teplitzky Jun 7th, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    As an update… Last Thursday a natural gas well exploded in Clearfield County, Pa gushing gas and super toxic water for 16 hours, and just today a well exploded in WV injuring 7 people and shooting 40-70 ft flames in the air. http://yhoo.it/cgyJ11

    This is dangerous, dirty stuff.

  2. 2 Gloria Jun 7th, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    Today, June 7th, another well exploded in Moundsville, W VA.

  3. 3 rmarg Jun 12th, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    I am not sure we can get rid of natural gas at the same time as coal. But certainly, hydraulic fracture should NOT be exempt from the Clean Water Act.

  1. 1 UN World Environment Day: A Sham, An Opportunity | Get Healthy Advice Trackback on Jun 7th, 2010 at 5:54 pm
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About Kim

Kim is the Campuses Beyond Coal Campaign Representative for the Sierra Student Coalition where she helps young people across the country fight Big Coal and create Coal Free Schools. Previously, she organized for climate and clean energy solutions with youth across the Rust Belt and helped with the early creation and development of Energy Action Coalition. She also loves traveling, especially in Latin America, and playing pick up touch football with her friends.

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