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Why the War Against Fracking May Be Our Most Crucial Conflict

Ultimately, the fate of the planet may hang in the balance.

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Activists weren’t the only ones with a keen interest in the SGEIS, however.  Documents obtained through New York’s Freedom of Information Law indicate that, in mid-August 2011, six weeks before the DEC made its statement public, the agency  shared detailed summaries of it with gas corporation representatives, giving the industry a chance to influence the final document before it went public.

Two days before the SGEIS was opened to public scrutiny, an attorney for the Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy Corporation and other companies asked regulators to “reduce or eliminate” a requirement for the sophisticated testing of fracking fluids.  Such fluids are laden with toxins, including carcinogens, which storms could wash away from drilling sites -- an especially grim prospect given the catastrophic flooding experienced in the state over the last three years.

At the same time, two upstate New York journalists  revealed that Bradley Field, the head of the DEC’s Mineral Resources Division, had signed a petition that denied the existence of climate change.  Formerly of Getty Oil and Marathon Oil, Field also serves as the state’s representative to the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission and the Ground Water Protection Council, both industry fronts which maintain that fracking is benign.  As this was coming to light, state officials  anonymously leaked word of a plan to open five counties on New York’s border with Pennsylvania to fracking as long as communities there supported the technology.

This is What Autocracy Looks Like                                       

In May 2012, Dewey Decker and his board passed a resolution pledging thatthe town of Sanford would take no action against fracking, while awaiting the decision of the DEC. There was no prior notice. Citizens were left to read about it in their local papers. “You wake up the next morning and say, ‘What happened?’” commented Doug Vitarious, a retired Sanford elementary school teacher.

In June, a headline in the  Deposit Courier, a Sanford paper, read “Local Officials in Eligible Communities Approve Pro-Drilling Resolutions.” Accompanying the piece was a map of towns that had passed such resolutions. The subscript under the map  read: “Joint Landowners Coalition of N.Y.” The JLCNY is the state’s grassroots gas industry ally, whose stated mission is to “foster... the common interest... as it pertains to natural gas development.” Decker represents the organization in Sanford.

During the summer, Vitarious and other citizens asked their town board where the resolution had originated, but were met with silence. They requested that the board rescind the resolution and conduct a referendum.  Decker refused.

By the end of August, 43 towns in the region had passed resolutions modeled on one appearing at the JLCNY website. It stipulates that at the local level “no moratorium on hydraulic fracturing will be put in place before the state of New York has made it’s [sic] decision.” Under New York’s Freedom of Information Law, Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy and the National Resources Defense Council obtained records from Sanford and two other towns about how  they achieved their objectives. The records, says Bruce Ferguson of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, “detail contacts between gas industry operatives and officials.”

Two months before superstorm Sandy swamped parts of the state, Sue Rapp, a psychotherapist from  the town of Vestal, told me that flooding worries her as much as anything else about fracking. Upper New York State suffered flooding in 2010 and 2011. And then came Sandy.  Floods turn millions of gallons of fracking waste-water for which there is no safe storage into streams of poisons that wash into waterways.

Unlike Sanford’s board, Vestal’s has not formally blocked debate. It has heard arguments for a moratorium by Rapp and an organization she co-founded, Vestal Residents for Safe Energy (VERSE), as well as pleas for a moratorium by physicians and academics. Its reaction, however, has simply been to sit on its hands, waiting for the DEC and Cuomo to make a final decision. This amounts to adopting the JLCNY position in all but formal vote.   “What is happening?” asked Rapp rhetorically at a demonstration in Binghamton this past September.  “They are trying to shut us down. But we do vote and we will vote. We do not constitute [what pro-drillers call] the tyranny of the majority, but simply the majority. That is called democracy.”

 
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