Appalachian Basin

Natural Gas Opponents’ Balloon Bursts In Bessemer

A natural gas protest in Bessemer, Pennsylvania, on Saturday proved to be a big bust, as a group called the Shadbush Environmental Justice Collective, assembled a handful of protestors in the service of fighting oppression or something, using Shell’s operations there as a target of opportunity.  

Last week, my colleagues here at EID Marcellus contacted me with a tip about a protest that was planned for Saturday at a Shell development site in Bessemer, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania.  I was close enough to attend and offered to cover it for them, expecting to grab some pictures and video of a large event.

Based on what I read on the Facebook page and website of a group called the Shadbush Environmental Justice Collective it sure sounded like it might be big.  The appeal that went out to activists was “Put the Spotlight on Shell–Stop Fracking in Bessemer, PA, Defend the Henry Farm!”  Heck, I expect to meet mobs with pitchforks!

What took place was, in the words of Seinfeld, a “show about nothing.”  The event was a complete bust and what ever balloon our activist friends hoped to launch with this little show burst in Bessemer.

There were, by my count, a total of maybe eight protestors in Bessemer (for a while, as one left early).  I guess that’s enough to qualify as the “Bessemer Seven” if they had gotten arrested, but sadly for all, they didn’t.  The whole thing might better have been called “Bored in Bessemer.”  Here’s a video the protestors posted.  Anyone who can watch all 41+ minutes is due an award.  A new life might be just the ticket.

There are some funny moments in the video, though it more generally qualifies one of “America’s Unfunniest Videos.”  The narrator, at the very end, for example, apparently forgets his stage name.  Earlier, at 13:05, he refers to the “fracking rig,” a moment that tells us pretty much all we need to know about the research conducted by the Shadfish Environmental Justice Collective.  There is no such thing, of course, but this is followed by a couple of intonations of “Message from the dark side” by another voice sounding like Daffy Duck.  If there is any better illustration of the juvenile nature of much of the natural gas opposition, I’m not sure what it would be.


Bessemer Protestors – All 8 of Them


There is also a woman, at 1:15 who, when asked where Shell was in the process right now, replied “I don’t know, but I do know they punched a whole into the ground.”   Then, with that foundational knowledge set, she proceeds to talk about Shell itself, stating, at 4:45, the company “tells stories that aren’t true” and proceeds to say the company claims “fracking has been around 100-150 years and that’s not true.”  Well, call me cynical, but does anyone beside this woman believe Shell said such a thing?  No.  Shell says “hydraulic fracturing is a proven technique that has been used for decades” in this excellent piece.  Who’s telling stories that aren’t true?  I think we know.

The woman in the video appears to be Maggie Henry, whose story is told on the home page of the Shadbush Environmental Justice Collective’s website.  She is an organic farmer and is worried Marcellus Shale development near her will damage her status and her brand.  Spinning half-facts and mistruths about what’s happening in the area might do that, too, but this seems not to have occurred to her.  She might also consider talking to Kate Watson, an organic farmer from New York who has a quite different perspective.

Interestingly, the collective (we really don’t need to know much more than they call themselves by this name) says this (emphasis added):

Connecting struggles against coal and natural gas is critical to showing that no form of fossil fuel extraction, or consumption, is safe or clean.

I guess this means the giant plastic sign the protestors held up was unsafe and unclean.  The same must go for the microphone they used, the computer they used to upload their magnificent thoughts, the magic markers they used to make the other signs and many of the clothes they wore.  I suppose I shouldn’t be so picky, but when your website says stuff like the following you invite critical study, don’t you?

Toward Radical Sustainability
We believe that as a matter of survival we must build and evolve physical and social infrastructure that meets our needs in ways that are deeply ecological, community-controlled, locally integrated, and autonomous from oppressive, centralized institutions. We support and actively participate in this work of radical sustainability.

Against False Solutions, Against Green Capitalism
We believe that the ecological crisis cannot be addressed without fundamental changes to present-day economic and technological infrastructure. We resist and reject band-aid solutions that serve only to put a green face on the destructive systems driving these crises in the first place.

What the collective is, and so many other of our opponents are, is an anti-capitalist extremist group masquerading as an environmental organization and using natural gas development as a target of opportunity.  Their rhetoric makes that explicitly clear.  They couldn’t care less about what Shell is doing in Bessemer.  Rather, they oppose Shell for what it is, an outstanding example of a corporation doing it right, having one of the lowest violation rates among all major Marcellus Shale operators in Pennsylvania (listed as SWEPI, LP).  No corporation can do anything right in the collective’s eyes.  Therefore, because Shell counters their narrative, it must, from their perspective, be opposed.
Nevertheless, it had to be a less than inspiring day for the protestors.  Their most bold act of defiance was a shout across the road toward me: “For every ‘honk’ we get, that’s one more voice against fracking!”  They were present for less than an hour and a half.  I spoke with the gentlemen near the gate, who informed me I was the “most exciting thing to happen” today.  Well, I guess that’s a good thing.  If this is the best the opposition can do after all that hype, a recurrent pattern among “fractivists” nationwide, by the way, the public is growing very weary of these boring, self-absorbed attention seekers.  Their balloon has burst.

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