Close to a hundred well-behaved protestors rallied against fracking Wednesday evening at the Mt. Kisco, NY Village Hall. In a solemn and peaceful hour repeated calls were made on Governor Andrew Cuomo to ban fracking in New York state. The event was organized by Suzannah Glidden, Vitalah Simon and Susan Van Dolsen.
(For a behind the scenes look at how this piece came to be, stop by the blog at paulstark.name)
Hydraulic fracturing is a method of extracting natural gas (methane) from vast underground shale fields by injecting water laced with undisclosed blends of chemicals, many of them toxic, to break apart the shale. Millions of gallons of water are diverted from other uses and rendered so contaminated that most municipal water treatments plants are unable to process it. Water tables and aquifers are frequently contaminated, sometimes rendering homeowners’ tap water undrinkable, and sometimes flammable. A slew of chemicals – including arsenic, lead, strontium, radon, uranium, methane, xylene and a large number of others, many unidentified – have rendered the drinking water for thousands of people dangerously toxic and carcinogenic. In some cases bottled or even-trucked in water has been required; in some cases, homes have been rendered unfit for human habitation.
Early in the vigil, moving first person accounts of ruinous economic and health consequences were read to the solemn and determined group. Colorful signs from individuals and a number of organizations were held aloft in the circular walkway in front of the library and Village Hall. Organizer Suzannah Glidden that the quickly organized rally represented a significant step forward in bringing together interfaith and citizens groups opposed to fracking. Representatives from many faiths were on hand. Ms. Glidden was invited a number of Muslim groups but discovered that Ramadan celebrations interred with their attendance, though several expressed support.
The event was, as the press release promised, “a peaceful and solemn vigil.” Prayers were offered, letters read, and there was a chance for anyone who wished to take the mic and make a statement. Nearly all the current arguments against fracking were touched on.
For those unfamiliar with the issues, here’s a quick summary of some of the arguments against fracking: the dangers of contaminated and untreatable drinking water; noise and air pollution; millions of gallons of contaminated water stored in open-air ponds; increased earthquake activity; release of greenhouse gasses both in combustion and through leaks at the wells (methane is four times more potent in creating the greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide); well-documented health and environmental harms; noise and air pollution; dramatic declines in property values; fewer jobs, and a much lower quality, than advertised.
Fracking was referred to as “a crime against humanity, Mother Earth and all species.” No one spoke in support of fracking – standard arguments in support of the practice tend to center on increased economic growth, energy independence, and the comparative clean burning characteristics of methane in comparison to coal. The vigil was attended by members of the local clergy, including Rev. Dr. Michael Tino of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Westchester, Rev. Gina Sharpe of Westchester Insight Meditation in Bedford Hills, and Sister Carol DeAngelo, SC. Participating groups and fracking resources are available [http://paulstark.name/journalism/anti-fracking-8-1-2012/]. Also in attendance was New York State Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti spoke about the proposed legislation he’s sponsoring (A08805) which would regulated fracking companies, demand disclosure of chemicals used, and hold extractors liable for damages. He told the gathering that “fracking doesn’t make sense – economically or environmentally.” Homemade posters put forward such messages as “Water is Sacred,” “There Is No Planet B,” and “Governor Cuomo, we will remember in 2014.” A prayer from the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer included the statement, “Lord, you made us fellow workers in your creation.” Rev. Tino enjoined the Governor to consider the consequences of his decision “unto the seventh generation,” a practice that might have saved the people of West Virginia the ill effects, many of them ongoing, caused by the coal mining initiated in that state “seven generations ago.”
Here are some quick impressions of some of the people in attendance.
George Klein, a member of the Sierra Club, asked why only the NYC and Syracuse watersheds were protected against fracking, while all the rest of the State was left unprotected: “Are all the other people less valuable?”
Scott Mori, a botanist, asked a simple question, why, of all industries, should fracking be exempt from the requirements of both the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Later, he talked about his work at the New York Botanical Garden, his lifetime of research on plant propagation in rain forests, and said, “human-mediated changes are just screwing everything up.”
Tracy Basile, an activist in Wespac.org and a professor of Environmental Studies at Pace, offered free copies of her movie, “The Unfractured Future,” produced with Scott Halfmann through the Wespac website. The documentary is also available on YouTube.
One speaker was heartened to see that “the crowds are getting bigger each time,” and praised people’s “stubbornness and willingness to stick in.”
After the formal vigil:
Bill Meyer, a Sierra Club statewide delegate, talked about helping to lead the Atlantic Chapter to take a stand against fracking and his efforts to promote an anti-fracking position from the national Sierra Club.
Vitalah Simon asked, “Who cares if we hate each other if we don’t have water.” She believes that publicizing stories of individual people suffering from the effects of fracking will be an effective tactic in helping to convince the Governor to decide in favor of a ban.
Suzzanah Glidden was pleased with the organizing efforts and happy with the event. She was particularly happy to have helped to make new connections between interfaith religious and citizens’ groups, in spite of the challenges of organizing during what is, for many people, a time of summer vacations.
Dave Robinson came up from Brooklyn because “he wanted to see this.” He talked about his work with Food and Water Watch and handed out postcards for Artists Against Fracking and The Sky is Pink (PinkskyNY.com), an “emergency short film” from Josh Fox, director of Gasland.
Betta Broad from FrackAction was there with her big white dog and a fellow FrackAction activist manning a camera. They were shooting video for “Voices Against Fracking,” a project which will compile footage of ordinary New Yorkers making personal statements on fracking and deliver the finished product to Governor Cuomo.
Jannette Barth, a Ph.D. economist, talked about her work with Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy (catskillcitizens.org) and her efforts to bring attention to the real economic facts about fracking by lecturing, writing and testifying.
There’s no question that just about all the power in the confrontation over fracking lies with those who stand to profit from it and their advocates. Intelligent people of conviction and good will against the practice for all their reasons, even with Mark Ruffalo and Lady Gaga on their side, seem hopelessly overmatched. But time will tell. Perhaps 120 people with signs and a microphone are part of the beginning of a citizen’s movement which will amass enough power to actually stop something as seemingly inevitable as fracking sometimes seems.
For a tasty selection of additional links and resourced, visit the page for this event at paulstark.name [http://paulstark.name/journalism/anti-fracking-8-1-2012/]