fracking_files_triple_divide

A month ago I scheduled a file review for April 22 with DEP’s north central regional office to look at a cluster of fracking issues happening in Bradford County, PA. Shortly after, I received the following confirmation.

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Today I stand at DEP’s office where the Regional Business Manager, Richard Edwards, is telling me my review is cancelled. He says, the office had a ‘file convergent system’ scheduled to arrive and no one would be able to look at files for the day. Tomorrow is okay, and the day before was okay, but no one can be in the office today because this system is suppose to be there. Much to Mr. Edwards disappointment, the system never arrived.

But, at 12:30pm something else did arrive at DEP’s doors.

Around the same time DEP sent over my confirmation email, another email was sent out to nonprofit organizations across Pennsylvania with a press release stating activists were holding a DEP rally on Earth Day to protest and make demands about fracking at each regional office. My guess is the Department saw the release, so they decided to lock up the files. I believe this, since it took the Department a total of one day to gather the files I needed, and I arrived on April 24 to see all the files prepared.

On Earth Day 2013 the first wave of protestors gathered at DEP's north central office in Williamsport, PA. © J.B.Pribanic

On Earth Day 2013 the first wave of protestors gathered at DEP’s north central office in Williamsport, PA. © J.B.Pribanic

This leaves me to make a choice. Either walk away and drive 3 hours back home, or stay and demand the files be released, and I carry out my scheduled review.

Protestors gather at the back door in Williamsport, Pa. DEP sending a warm welcome to DEP staff who were asked by the Department management to enter and exit from the rear entrance in an effort to avoid the protest. © J.B.Pribanic

Protestors gather at the back door in Williamsport, Pa. DEP sending a warm welcome to DEP staff who were asked by the Department management to enter and exit from the rear entrance in an effort to avoid the protest. © J.B.Pribanic

But, I’m not a protestor, I’m not an activist, and I work on behalf of the free press of the United States, an institution protected by our constitutional laws that empower our ability as journalists to gain access to public information:

The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law… infringing on the freedom of the press.

DEP’s Earth Day act is not only a gravestone on our constitution, on public transparency, it foreshadows a darker reality where fracking is king, our democracy is caged, and its only unlocked by extreme measures.

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The bitter truth is the public cannot see all the information at DEP on fracking issues, i.e. unless DEP wishes for it to be released. DEP can withhold files it deems to be ‘under investigation,’ and it can also not alert you to specific files removed for investigation. Posit that with basic questions about fracking that are never answered, and you’re left with a defeated press. In Triple Divide, we show how the 21st century of environmental protections are carried out by regulators on a foreign vessel, who permit unwanted demands to allow for less protection, and less accountability.

New Policies at DEP

The file review I scheduled for Earth Day 2013, had, for the first time, a PDF attached (see PDF embedded below), that outlined DEP’s new policies. Now, this was a good thing; considering in the past (2011-2012) DEP handled fracking file reviews like a fish out of water. Each one conducted for Triple Divide contained new policies and adventures (again, see PDF). But, there was one we’ll never forget. It was the time we brought Josh Fox into our file reviews while he was filming for Gasland II.



Josh Fox & The Dimock Files

It was October 2011, and results on the Chesapeake Bradford Blowout had just arrived at DEP in time for our file review. With it, Public Herald requested all of the Dimock case files for an article in the oven, titled Drinking Dimock. Everything was going strange as usual, but when we brought Fox into the room DEP’s Director of Communications, Dan Spadoni, blew his lid.

But, lets back up.

When Public Herald introduced Fox to the DEP file review, a few things needed to be pointed out, one of which being the size of the Dimock files, standing less than 16″ tall on the center table. Now, for anyone who knows anything about environmental cases that are over a year old with lots of media attention, 16″ representing all the files smells really fishy… and it was.

So, we alerted Fox to the corner of the room to 4 large boxes standing just over 3′ tall alongside the recycling bin, where ALL the Dimock files were stored!

If we go back two months before this review, Public Herald looked at the Dimock files for the first time and Melissa Troutman found the boxes sitting innocuously next to the recycling bin, sort of waiting for someone to accidentally toss them into an earth-friendly dumpster.

Fox, throwing up his hands, began tearing through the files on the floor with his camera, saying “look at this… look at this one!” holding images and letters of Dimock residents from tattered folders in bruised cardboard boxes.

After a short hour of freeing files, in came Dan Spadoni, peering through the two way glass, his infuriated brow looking at us from the hallway, where he shouted obscenities and pointed furiously to the file room.

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Spadoni’s actions changed the way we looked at files, caused us to be escorted around the building, and no one was allowed to review files without a DEP file clerk in the room. With that, our cheerful file clerks became apologetic and embarrassed after Mr. Spadoni unveiled himself for the first time in our presence.

Almost two years later, I heard Fox had setup a scene in Gasland II to reveal the circus we experienced for his first file review. I for one, hope it made the final cut.

DEP Earth Day 

And here we are, on the one day devoted to environmental protection in the United States, DEP has chosen to bolt the doors, removing public access to thousands of files detailing environmental damage in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It’s an Earth Day I will always remember; as I share the silent prison behind DEP walls with protestors who cry out to the public about stories from the shale fields, asking for help.

About the author

Joshua Pribanic is Editor-in-Chief for publicherald.org, an investigative reporter, director, photographer, and permaculturalist. His debut documentary, Triple Divide, investigates how the impacts of fracking are being handled by the state and industry. Influences include Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, and ProPublica's Editor Paul Steiger. Follow on twitter: @jbpribanic