Activist celebrates 80th birthday by protesting against Marcellus Shale drilling

Activist celebrates 80th birthday by protesting against Marcellus Shale drilling

Posted 11 July 2011, by Donald Gilliland (The Patriot-News), PennLive,

When she turned 75, Barbara Van Horn walked 75 miles through Perry County.

She has had two knee replacements since then, so she knew she wouldn’t be walking 80 miles when she celebrated her 80-year milestone.

“I’ve been thinking for at least six months what would be significant,” Van Horn said on June 26, amid placards and blaring horns in front of the Governor’s Residence in Harrisburg.

Van Horn took 80 carnations to the Kinkora nursing home, where she serves as ombudsman.

She donated $80 to several of her favorite nonprofits.

She delivered 80 copies of Section 27 of Pennsylvania’s Constitution — the environmental clause — to legislative offices at the Capitol.

And she invited her friends to join her in front of the Governor’s Residence to demonstrate against drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale.

Outfitted in the activist urban-chic of a “no fracking” T-shirt and black sunglasses, Van Horn was all energy. Like a general goading her troops, she seemed to be everywhere: talking, laughing, passing out noisemakers.

“I think 80 years of living in Pennsylvania gives me the right to have a strong opinion about fracking and what it’s going to do to this state,” she said.

More than 40 of Van Horn’s friends joined her, including people from her church, women from the peace group Women In Black and a crowd from Gas Truth, an anti-drilling group Van Horn helped create.

Van Horn’s activism began, daughter Erica Bostwick said, more than 50 years ago when she “took on the school board about phasing out counselors and psychologists from the school system.”

“And what she won’t tell you is she used to be a Republican,” she said.

Cordell Affeldt, a 69-year-old Harrisburg resident, said she admired Van Horn for urging people to take a stand on her birthday.

“It’s so mindless to allow the destruction of the environment without preparation for the future and without attending to our long-term energy needs,” Affeldt said. “It’s deeply short-sighted, and an 80-year-old is exactly the person to get advice from on long-term issues.”

Van Horn said, “One of the most important things to me is the Pennsylvania wilderness. Most people can’t even imagine yet what’s going to happen to the mountains.”

In addition to forest clearing for thousands of drilling pads, the gas industry will be cutting pipelines through the woods to get the gas to market. Even conservative environmental groups have raised concerns about forest fragmentation.

“Thousands of acres of trees are going to be taken down,” Van Horn said. “Trees that are 100 years old don’t come back in five years.”

Van Horn said she was also concerned about the water.

“Water is an increasingly scarce resource,” she said. “Almost everybody in Pennsylvania has to pay for it, and we’re giving it to the drilling companies.”

She also pointed out she was not the oldest person at the rally. Eighty-nine-year-old Dr. Geoffrey Corson of Middle Paxton Twp. stood by the road in a straw hat holding a sign with Corbett’s photo.

Vehicles passing on Front Street beeped their horns.

“I think it’s inevitable we’ll continue drilling,” Corson said, “but it should be done in such a manner that it hurts a minimum of people. The powers-that-be aren’t listening.”


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