Twelve participants in the Tour de FRACK, or Freedom Ride for Awareness & Community Knowledge, rode their bicycles through Rockwood this week to bring attention to the side effects of hydraulic fracturing.
The bicyclists are riding from Butler to Washington, D.C., on the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal Towpath bicycle trails for a total of 400 miles. They plan to lobby legislators and have a rally when they arrive in the nation's capital.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a drilling method used to extract gas from the Marcellus Shale, an underground rock formation extending throughout southern New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and eastern Ohio. This method of natural gas extraction uses a horizontal drill that fractures or "fracks" the rock using water.
In Gov. Tom Corbett's Marcellus Shale advisory report, the state Department of Environmental Protection reported no instances of the process itself negatively impacting a water supply.
"The primary concerns regarding hydraulic fracturing relate to surface spills of fluids, well control and lost containment of production and flowback water on the surface," the report states. "Proper collection, storage, transportation and maintenance of fluids on the surface are critical to minimizing threats to both surface and ground water resources."
The purpose of the 137-page report, done by members of the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, was to provide an outline on how to develop Marcellus Shale while conserving the state's natural resources. The report was completed last year.
Shayna Metz of Butler, program coordinator and a graduate student at the SIT Graduate Institute in Vermont, believes a grassroots movement with community involvement like the Tour de FRACK will make a difference. The group is relaying 16 stories of families affected by fracking. They are also carrying six gallons of polluted water from a well in Butler. These items will be presented to members of Congress during the group's visit to Washington, D.C., on July 28.
"The water being used to drill has over 500 chemicals in it, including arsenic, benzene and barium. These are known carcinogens, but the Department of Environmental Protection still says it's safe to drink," Metz said.
She and others offered a glass of contaminated water to a member of the department, but they didn't want to drink it.
Metz said the changes in the affected communities in Butler County are clearly visible. There are families that can't even shower without getting light-headed from the fumes, she said.
"These are healthy farms that are just now having strange side effects from drinking the contaminated water. The only thing that has changed is these rigs going up," Metz said.