Rex Energy in Spotlight After Viral Video of Racist at Fracking Protest

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The racist rant of a Pennsylvania man during an anti-fracking protest at Rex Energy went viral this week, with more than 633,000 views on Revolution News and 432,000 views on YouTube so far. The man, identified as John Pisone, verbally assaulted the African-American videographer recording the event, calling him a chimp, accusing him of “milking my f*cking tax dollars,” employing the N-word numerous times and making monkey noises.

The Internet retaliated. Pisone’s identity was uncovered and his employer contacted. MMC Land Management promptly fired him and issued a statement condemning his behavior.

Not only did Pisone lose his job, his family says they’re ashamed of him. He had to deactivate his Facebook account as soon as the video took off, and he says he has received death threats. “This was stupid of me. I was angry,” he told a local television station. He has turned to his church to guide him, he says.

Videographer Tom Jefferson, who has long documented opposition against the gas industry, has been praised both for keeping his cool and the camera running. (You can support his work here.) Pisone contacted Jefferson and apologized.

Rex Energy

Professional photographer and videographer, Tom Jefferson.

Jefferson seems to view Pisone’s actions in a broader context. “In a way, he’s a victim of what was shoved into him. The way he is, well, it’s not his fault,” he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Until he was fired, Pisone worked for MMC Land Management, which appears to be a landscaping company by the description on its website. But the company is also a subcontractor for the energy extraction industry in Pennsylvania. Pisone’s former work may have relied on the gas industry thriving, which might account for his hostility toward the senior citizen protesters blocking Rex Energy’s Geyer well pad.

“You can sit on your lazy f*cking chair, being a lazy f*cking nothing…. Goddamn lazy f*cking hippies is all you are,” raved Pisone. “What are you protecting [the community]from? Jobs?… I’m not going to learn anything from you idiots.”

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Grandparents anti-fracking protest at Rex Energy
Image via Marcellus Outreach Middlesex

There is no evidence that MMC Land Management provides products or services for the Geyer well pad. But one of the protesters, Michael Bagdes-Canning of Marcellus Outreach Butler, said he didn’t know whether it mattered.

“Rex Energy is using the same logic—job, taxes, hippie protesters don’t know what they’re talking about—to justify what they do,” he said. “Pisone says ugly things that ultimately didn’t harm any of us. But Rex is going to inflict real harm, endangering an entire community.”

The Geyer well pad is located only half a mile from the campus of the Mars Area School District, where 3,200 children go to school. Rex Energy is building five fracking wells on this well pad, and it would like to build wells even closer, on the land belonging to the School District. It offered $1 million to lease it.

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A map of Rex Energy’s Geyer well site in relation to local schools.

Local residents and environmental groups have been up in arms about the threats posed to the children’s health and safety. They point out that the school is within the blast radius in the event of an explosion, and studies have found that fracking wells release cancer-causing chemicals into the air, such as benzene, hydrogen sulphide and formaldehyde. A March 2012 study showed that people living within a half-mile of oil and gas fracking operations were exposed to air pollutants at a level that is five times higher than the federal hazard standard. And there are already fracking wells and compressor stations operating near schools in Butler County.

The gas and liquids below Butler County are valued at $663 million. In November 2014, the CFO of Rex Energy called the 100 active wells in Butler “our core asset, our crown jewel.”

“Butler is a prolific gas field for Rex,” he told TribLive. “We feel like we’re just scratching the surface as to how good it could be.”

You can find Rex Energy updates on the progress of the Geyer well pad on the website of the Mars Area School District (Home of the Fightin’ Planets), right alongside lunch menus and the school district calendar.

Rex Energy has made its mark on another community in Pennsylvania called the Woodlands. Shortly after two of Rex Energy’s Conoquenessing gas wells had casing failures in late 2010
the water from many wells in the Woodlands turned dark orange and began to smell bad. Dark sediment floated in it. In spite of the fact that the water caused people to throw up and get rashes, testing by the Department of Environmental Protection found that pre- and post-drilling samples didn’t differ substantially.

Appearing vindicated, Rex Energy stopped providing drinking water. Under its orders, workers went to collect the water buffaloes it had given to homes with contaminated wells. In front of homeowners, they dumped hundreds of gallons of clean water onto the ground.

In Badges-Canning’s opinion, this astonishing cruelty by Rex Energy surpasses the racist bullying and shocking lack of empathy displayed by Pisone, however repellent.

“Pisone’s ugliness is only different in degree,” he said.

Also, there were harsh and swift consequences for Pisone’s behavior. For poisoning a community’s well water and building fracking wells without regard for the health and safety of thousands of children nearby, there appear to be no consequences for Rex Energy, only profits.

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About Author

Anne Meador is a co-founder of DC Media Group, a grassroots collective of journalists reporting news and issues from the people's perspective.