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White Oak documentarians to show film about gas drilling, water contamination

| Friday, May 16, 2014, 3:41 a.m.

Two White Oak documentarians will show a film about gas drilling and how it affects water supplies Saturday at 1 p.m. in the community room at the Norwin Public Library.

“It's the biggest issue facing Pennsylvania right now that is not being properly addressed and managed,” said Melissa Troutman, who with Joshua Pribanic took 18 months to put together the 90-minute “Triple Divide” documentary.

“Triple Divide” refers to the triple continental divide in Pennsylvania's northern tier, one of four in North America.

The film focuses on drilling amid watersheds in the northern tier and regulation by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“Our investigations cover cradle-to-grave impacts not covered anywhere else, such as the predrill water testing problem and pressure bulb effect of fracking,” Pribanic said.

Troutman and Pribanic, respectively, are managing editor and editor-in-chief of Public Herald, a nonprofit organization dedicated to investigative journalism and the arts. It maintains the website.

In 2011 Public Herald contributors Bob and Ruth Haag wrote that the fluid used in the fracking or hydraulic fracturing process “will most likely not reach the groundwater,” but may cause a “pressure bulb” with secondary effects on drinking water wells.

“When you apply pressure to soil or rock, the pressure doesn't just stop at the surface you are pushing on,” they wrote. “The pressure spreads and dissipates through the surrounding soil or rock.”

That runs contrary to claims made in Allegheny County when drilling was allowed under Deer Lakes Park and in North Huntingdon, the North Huntingdon Environmental Stewardship Project posted on its Facebook page on April 10.

“Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said gravity would keep fracking pollutants from migrating upward to water sources,” the stewardship project said. “A gas industry official made a similar claim at the hearing before the (township commissioners).”

North Huntingdon Environmental Stewardship Project, a self-described citizen group concerned with the health and well-being of the local environment and of its neighbors in the Norwin area, is sponsoring the film in the second in a series of discussions the group plans on the impact of shale gas development in that township.

On Feb. 19 township commissioners approved 10-year leases to Huntley and Huntley Energy Exploration of Monroeville for drilling under the municipal Braddock's Trail and Oak Hollow parks.

“Triple Divide” is the first full-length film produced by Troutman and Pribanic.

Pribanic's relatives include uncles Jeffrey, Victor and Michael Pribanic, all part of White Oak's Pribanic & Pribanic law firm, which supports Public Herald's efforts.

Troutman said Pribanic's family traditionally came to Potter County at the start of trout fishing season.

“They have an appreciation of the unique hydrology of the area,” said Troutman, who formerly worked with the weekly Potter Leader-Enterprise newspaper.

“Triple Divide” has 10 chapters covering such topics as hazardous waste disposal, injection wells, drinking water contamination, split-estates and pre-drill water testing.

“The pre-drill test is the only science that private well owners have to protect themselves when drill construction is a new neighbor,” Troutman said.

Public Herald won a $35,000 Investigative News Network INNovation Fund grant funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to take the film to screenings across the country. Its work in the northern tier drew attention from national media.

“The Daily Show with Jon Stewart traveled to Bradford County for its first segment on fracking based on Public Herald's reporting there,” Troutman said. “Daily Show needed solid evidence, and we provided.”

Actor Mark Ruffalo is narrator of the film.

More details about the environmental stewardship project are available at its Facebook page, by email to or by calling 724-864-6189.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or

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