Thousands Converge in Washington to Launch National Movement Against Fracking
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I traveled to DC on a bus sponsored by Catskill Mountainkeeper, an environmental organization charged with protecting the Catskill region of New York and one of the organizing groups of the rally. On the bus were friends, acquaintances and strangers. Members of the volunteer citizens group, Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy (also part of the rally coalition) held up a sign in the parking lot of the Elks Lodge in Liberty, New York in the Sullivan County Catskills at 5am in solidarity to document this important moment in the movement to stop fracking before departing for the six-hour drive to the protest. Neil Fitzgerald, a farmer, said, "I irrigate from the Delaware River. I'm an organic farmer in New York. When they poison the river, I'm out of business. There's a neighbor who leased upstream of the brook and when they pollute that brook which runs into the river my water supply will be destroyed. Anyone that leases in the basin upstream from me threatens my farm."
Brandi Merolla, an artist in Narrowsburg, New York, responded to my question about participating in the protest, "For me this is a human rights issue. Industrializing our residential communities is unconscionable. I've been part of this movement for three years and this protest is the culmination of our works. I don't want to be exposed to carcinogens and neurotoxins in my residential community." Alice Zinnes of Milanville, Pennsylvania said, "I don't want it to happen anywhere. It's part of my terror, terrified of the end of life as we know it. I'm very aware of global climate change and I'm scared. The health impacts are terrifying. With the environment we don't have a second chance. If you kill an aquifer it's dead for generations."
Also from Milanville, 12-year-old Annabelle Brinkerhoff said, "About a quarter-mile from our house is a test well [Crum Well] and it's freaky that it's so close, it's eerie that it's so close to people and there's a stream near it. It's on a gorgeous one-lane back road. It seems so pristine for something like that. I think it's good that I'm educated about it. It's better to get more young people involved because it's going to affect our future. Young people have a big voice if we can be educated, we'd be listened to, so I'm going to learn more, keep going to protests like this and keep telling my friends about it." Her cousin, Ruby Brinkerhoff, 20, of Galilee, Pennsylvania adds, "I don't trust people who are pro-fracking. I don't trust them with my well being or that of my community because they're not seeing the other options. They are gaining something by taking risks with other people's lives."
New York is of particular importance to the fight because of the current threat to the fracking moratorium with Governor Cuomo's recent statement that fracking would be permitted in the Southern Tier of upstate New York in the coming weeks. New York is not alone. The story of fracking, the controversy and the increasing complaints of devastation is one being amplified throughout shale oil and gas regions. I looked for pro-fracking supporters to talk to, but surprisingly none were to be found that day. The name of the rally is telling as the word "attack" is one that embodies infiltration and violence, describing the combination of fear and anger so many of the participants feel as they face fracking in their neighborhoods.
The 90-minute rally was followed by a march to the headquarters of America's Natural Gas Alliance and American Petroleum Institute where participants converged at 5pm. At the headquarters of the Natural Gas Alliance, organizers dressed in hazmat suits delivered six containers of contaminated water, followed by the grand finale where a mock oil rig was smashed to bits. This first national protest against fracking presented a unified voice as approximately 5,000 people met on the Capitol lawn from communities large and small, urban, suburban and rural, spilling out in busloads demanding the stop to the destructive extractive method to capture oil and gas called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.