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Bike riders chart safety course for Marcellus shale drilling

| Sunday, April 1, 2012

About 10 bicyclists rode part of the Butler Freeport Community Trail on Saturday to raise awareness about the toll the Marcellus shale gas industry has taken on communities.

"We really want to call attention to the human stories," said Jason Bell, 37, of Evans City, a member of Tour de FRACK (Freedom Ride for Awareness and Community Knowledge), the Butler County grassroots organization that organized the ride. "We're aware of the economic benefits to people in the area, but we see negative impacts as being more widespread."

The event was a training ride for the group's upcoming 14-day, 45-mile bike tour from July 15 to 28 from Butler to Washington, D.C., along the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O towpath.

During that ride participants will coordinate events along to trail to explore proposed well sites, study renewable energy sources, view damage like acid runoff caused by coal mining and deliver personal accounts to the White House, the Environmental Protection Agency and Congress.

Saturday's ride began shortly after 10 a.m. in Diamond Park in the City of Butler and ended at the Freeport trail head. Riders wore Tour de FRACK T-shirts over their jackets.

Karen Bagdes-Canning, 57, of Cherry Valley, Butler County, said she participated because she wants honesty from drillers.

"I've gotten tired of hearing from the industry about how safe it is," she said. "I don't think they're being truthful."

Bell said it's nearly impossible to live in Butler County and not be affected by the Marcellus shale gas industry.

He said his home is within a four-mile radius where Keystone Midstream Services is set to put six gas process plants. Each one's carbon monoxide emissions will be 5 percent below the state's threshold.

"We'll be downwind from it," Bell said. "On top of that, my grandmother has been approached by someone to lease, and my cousin is going to have a pipeline running through her property."

His wife Jill Perry, 41, and 19-month-old daughter, Silvi, were along for yesterday's ride.

Perry said her stance on the Marcellus shale gas industry isn't as hard-nosed as her husband's, but she would like drilling to occur farther from homes and farms.

"I wish we could find a safer way to do it, and there could be more accountability and transparency," she said. "I think there could be a better way to do it, farther away from people."

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