Did gas drillers get preferential treatment from state cops? - abc27 WHTM

Did gas drillers get preferential treatment from state cops?

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Fracking in Pennsylvania is a toxic topic and emotions run strong on both sides of the gas drilling divide.

Supporters are convinced the Marcellus is economic manna from heaven. Critics are equally sure hydraulic fracturing has turned the commonwealth into a polluter's playground.

Harrisburg is the battleground in the latest skirmish between the two. There are claims of preferential treatment by the Pennsylvania State Police during last Wednesday's pro-drilling rally on the steps of the Capitol.

Well over a thousand supporters flocked to Harrisburg from across the state. Most came in buses that were parked on City Island. While the ralliers walked across the bridge toward the Capitol, the state police bus safety detail decided to do a spot inspection of the parked buses and converged on the island.

Shortly thereafter, the detail packed up and hurriedly left before the inspections were complete. State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan admits he chased the inspectors off City Island.

"We got calls from the community, and I got a call from the governor's office asking me what were we doing? Not specifically bus inspections but there was a large presence of state police, what was going on?" Noonan said.

I pressed, so the governor's office got involved?

"They asked me what was going on, yes," Noonan replied.

Noonan says he honestly didn't know if the buses brought protesters or supporters of Marcellus to Harrisburg. He didn't want either side thinking state police were harassing them.

"That was the reason, that's why I did it (yanking the inspectors). It was strictly my decision and I would make it again. We can't have people coming to the Capitol and give them any reason to think we're gonna try to stifle their dissent. We're not gonna do it," he said.

But as with most things Marcellus, there's a difference of opinion.

"When the head of State Police steps in and stops something on behalf of the drillers, that's definitely an abuse of power," said Harrisburg activist Gene Stilp, who protested at the rally last Wednesday.

Stilp calls it another example of drillers wielding too much power in Harrisburg.

"This Capitol, the legislature, the governor is owned and operated by the drilling interests," Stilp said while standing on the steps of the Capitol. "The large gas companies own and operate this building. You might as well outsource the whole building to gas drillers because that's what's happening already."

Noonan insists he was not trying to protect drillers but protect free speech. He says bus inspections are typically performed at casinos or amusement parks and not at rallies or protests. But he wouldn't throw his inspectors under the -- you know.

"Not that the people who decided to do it were doing anything wrong," Noonan said. "They were just trying to do their job. There were a lot of buses there. They didn't see what I was seeing."

Of course, the many critics of Marcellus Shale drilling in Pennsylvania won't be seeing it Noonan's way either.

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