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Grassroots Groups Unite For Statewide Ban on Fracking in New York

"We spent three years trying to prove that fracking could be done safely, and what we learned is that it can't be done safely. It is incredibly dangerous; it is incredibly toxic."

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The challenge is when you're up against the richest industry -- Big Oil and Gas -- ExxonMobil. You know, they literally have bottomless pockets. So, for the little guy, the little Mr. Mountainkeeper, to be up against the biggest industry in the world to try to protect the place that they want to suck money out of, that really does go to the heart of what democracy means. So, I mean, that needs to be talked about -- who are these people and why do they wield so much influence over everybody and everything? And why would a tough guy like Andrew Cuomo be beholden to them? Is he a "Cheney's boy"? Why? And why is that the situation we're in?

SA: Ramsay, let's talk about, then, specifically what's happening right now with gas drilling in New York State and fracking, and the stance that Mountainkeeper took before, which was to secure along with many other groups through the state for a moratorium to wait and see what these draft regulations would be with the DEC -- where we are now, because I think things have shifted radically, and I'd be interested what you think about that and what that means.

RA: Let's go back; let's do a soft timeline. Mountainkeeper -- we were in our office in Youngsville, which is a little hamlet in Sullivan County -- Wes Gillingham, our program director, and I -- and a farmer came in -- this is in 2008 -- said, "You know, a landman has come and offered to lease my land for gas drilling. Here's a copy of the lease. What is this all about?"

And I literally had no idea what he was talking about. I had no concept of it; no concept that there was shale underneath us with gas in it; no concept of what a landman was; no concept of what a lease was, mineral rights.

So, we went back and started asking questions, and asked some friends in the environmental movement what they knew about it, and they said, "You're in big trouble. We've heard about this Marcellus shale. You're in big trouble. They're going to roll over you They're going to destroy you. If you hear about the landmen now, they've been around probably operating for six to eight months, and probably have leased up a bunch of land already. So, your only hope is to get out in front of this. It's probably too late, but there are some really great people."

So, we got a small grant and flew in people from out west -- folks from Wyoming and Colorado -- grassroots activists who dealt with the same issue out there.

SA: And I'd like to say that you sponsored the first public forum that was at the Liberty High School, and then also in Walton in Delaware County in the Catskills, that brought these people in and allowed the public to come to listen, to share, to ask questions.

RA: Yeah. And that was really the first that a lot of people had heard about any of this publicly. They may have had a landman come to their house, but this was the first -- we had 1,000 people show up at these things.

What we realized was that they were coming, that this was dangerous, that this was a really frightening situation, and that we needed to get all the facts and information that we could, and that set us down a path at Mountainkeeper of trying to be honest brokers of information. And the first thing we learned was that the permit conditions the state had ... the conditions that the state would issue a permit for gas drilling didn't relate to this kind of fracking; it related to the old kind of vertical well extraction, where you literally drill a hole and stick a pump in there and suck it up. That was what the rules were for.

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