Unlikely Activists Say "Frack No!", Win Legislative Victory For Moratorium On Drilling
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When politicians refer to natural gas as a "clean" alternative to oil and coal, they seldom mention a commonly used technique called horizontal hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.
But in New York, residents were concerned enough about the long-term environmental, health, and economic fallout of fracking that they convinced the state Senate to institute a moratorium on the practice. In a 48-9 bipartisan landslide, state leaders voted to prohibit fracking for nine months so they can evaluate the environmental and health impacts of the practice before deciding how to continue.
"It was absolutely the result of thousands of citizens weighing in with their senators,” said Katherine Nadeau, director of the Water and Natural Resources Program for Environmental Advocates of New York. “When that many people call, write, and show up, it gets results. The other side was spending obscene amounts of money, but the more compelling argument was that there have been serious tragic repercussions to drilling."
Those repercussions have included fatalities from exploding wells, 30-mile stretches of streams without any living organisms, exploding tap water, diesel fuel spills, sick children and adults, plummeting property values, farmland that is no longer tillable, the destruction of vast swaths of once-beautiful scenery, along with many other documented cases of harm to people and the planet.
Fracking involves blasting through shale rock to release the gas trapped deep below ground. Each fracked well uses between 3 and 8 million gallons of clean water—usually trucked in from rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, and other fresh-water sources—that is then mixed with sand and a toxic stew of chemicals that drilling companies are not required to disclose. But Theo Colborn, a noted endocrinologist and water issues expert, has identified many of them as carcinogins, neurotoxins, and endocrine disruptors. They include acrylonitrite, ammonium bisulfite, benzene, boric acid, ethylbenzene, 5-chloro-2-methyl-4-isothiazotin-3-one, formaldehyde, monoethanolamine, styrene, tetrachlorethalene, toluene, and xylene.
Much of the waste fluid is left underground, where these toxins have affected groundwater drinking supplies in many states.
First-Time Activists in “A Fight for Our Lives”
Many fighting this battle had never before been involved in political issues. But after seeing the impacts of fracking around the country or in their own daily lives, they got active.
They organized and attended forums, panels, meetings, and rallies—sometimes alongside public figures like actor Mark Ruffalo and singer-songwriter Pete Seeger. Day after day, thousands of people called state senate and assembly offices to pressure for the moratorium. Achieving it was a first-round victory beyond expectations—a small but important win.
With their air, water, land, properties, communities, and health on the line, residents have made the campaign a priority, often sacrificing family time, leisure time, and sleep to keep abreast of developments and share information. "The petrochemical-industrial complex is stealing our land and our health," says New York resident and architect Joe Levine. "Life as we know it will change forever if we don’t stop them."
Levine has a home near the New York State border in Damascus, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Jane Cyphers, and their two daughters. The family has turned over their lives to this issue since they were first approached by gas companies wanting to lease their land. They soon realized that their beloved Delaware River would be imperiled by drilling. Levine cofounded Damascus Citizens, a grassroots group made up of people who are fighting to keep the Delaware safe from fracking. Their influence, and the experiences of the town of Dimock, Pennyslvania, inspired Josh Fox to make the documentary Gasland.
Sullivan County, New York, resident Larysa Dyrszka, a retired pediatrician, has also taken on the role of state-level activist for the first time.