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  • Writer's pictureEnvironmental Health Project

Partner Spotlight: Protect PT (Penn-Trafford)

The Environmental Health Project (EHP) works closely with partner organizations to share air monitoring and data analysis capabilities in communities impacted by oil and gas activity. This post is the first in a series highlighting these partnerships to spotlight the groups holding industry and policymakers to account and protecting their neighbors.

Michele Klingensmith (left) and Gillian Graber (right) at a Protect PT event. Photo courtesy of Protect PT.

This quarter we celebrate Protect PT, EHP’s longtime partner, on the occasion of the organization’s ninth anniversary. Protect PT was established in 2014 as a grassroots community-based nonprofit organization designed to protect the Penn Trafford area from harmful environmental impacts of fossil fuel activity. A group of neighbors, including current Executive Director Gillian Graber, got together in order to protect the community at large, knowing how detrimental this development would be to the community. Gillian reflects on her journey with Protect PT.

How and when did Protect PT get its start?

In 2014, I learned about fracking in my backyard, and when I learned that this development could harm my kids, I thought my neighbors should know. I ran after the school bus handing out educational information to fellow parents. 

It’s funny to look back on the days when we were selling candy bars and popcorn in my living room to cover attorney fees. Nowadays, we have an amazing eight-person full-time staff and are hiring a full-time staff attorney! It feels really surreal to see just how far we’ve grown.

First Row: Fabiana Licata, Emily Nissley, Tom Pike, and Jim Cirilano. Second Row: Gillian Graber, Yvonne Sorovacu, May Torpey, Brendan Wissinger, and Laura Vincenti. Photo courtesy of Protect PT.

What are your activities and what do they involve?

Our main activities include education, legal advocacy, and environmental monitoring


What is the most important work that Protect PT does?

We believe that all of the work we do is important, but our legal advocacy efforts to hold both the oil and gas industry as well as our government bodies accountable feel particularly important. Additionally, we would be remiss to not also mention all of our community education efforts! Of what contribution or achievement are you most proud?


On a big picture scale, out of the 12 proposed well pads, only three have been built. It feels really good to know that we have made tangible change for the community. It can be hard to quantify success in environmental work, because we work to create an “absence of something bad.” We can point to a field with native grasses and wildlife and say, “this is where heavy machinery would be.” That may not seem like much from the outside, but, at the end of the day, the science shows that exposure to oil and gas infrastructure is harmful. Knowing that we’ve prevented that kind of harmful exposure for community members is the most rewarding work that we do. People are reactive creatures, not proactive creatures, and oftentimes when they are facing the effects of oil and gas infrastructure, it’s too late. It’s so fulfilling to know that we got ahead of the eight ball to prevent those “it’s too late” moments.


How does Protect PT’s partnership with EHP enhance the work you're doing?


EHP has been with us from the beginning, helping to educate us and provide air monitoring services to our community before we had the ability to do that on our own.


What do you hope Protect PT will achieve in the near future? In the long term?


We have made progress in making local change to protect residents of Westmoreland and Allegheny Counties. We really hope to one day make state-level policy changes that will not only achieve more protections for Southwestern Pennsylvanians, but that will realize the constitutional right to clean air and water for all Pennsylvanians.

Fabiana Licata (left) and Yvonne Sorovacu (right). Photo courtesy of Protect PT.

Do you have an anecdote about this cause/organization that really moved you?


We had been hosting meetings in Plum around the injection well before it was developed, and one person, who was very pro-industry, would attend the meetings with skepticism and argue about our message. A year later, he said, “I thought you were just a tree-hugger, but you were trying to warn me that this would ruin my life.”


Do you have a message to share?

If the fossil fuel industry comes to your community, know that you are not alone. There are communities being impacted by this activity every day in our region. Protect PT and our partner organizations (including EHP!) will be with you in every step of the fight to protect your family and home from environmental and health threats. To access educational materials and resources, please visit

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I couldn't feel more proud (I'm a board member of PPT) reading this feature, Thank you!

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