Trailer Talk's Frack Talk: Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy Speak Out Along With the Flimmaker of FRACK! The Movie
When the well runs dry we learn the worth of water -- Ben Franklin.
This is how FRACK! the movie begins. It's this threat to water among many other vital things that keeps uniting residents throughout the Catskills and Delaware River Basin.
This isn't to portray the overall situation as one of unification; rather, the threat of natural gas drilling is fracturing communities while simultaneously building an increasing movement of people who are saying not in my backyard or yours either. The situation is complex and the reasons people may feel otherwise are often very compelling, and there are many voices to share in this ground zero of the movement to hold off the drillers.
Hundreds of people gathered on April 2 and civilians become heroes as they practice democracy and united to protect their neighborhoods in the face of unregulated gas drilling and fracking. Frack, once an unfamiliar word, is now a term used multiple times a day by those living on or near the shale; it has entered the lexicon of the language associated with natural gas drilling and the education continues about this technique of gas extraction as it is central to the debate about the safety, the viability and the impacts of natural gas.
Filmmaker David Morris, a Delaware County resident, joined the kitchen table of Trailer Talk to talk about his film FRACK!, in addition to Jill Wiener and Bruce Ferguson, volunteers from Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy (included in the film), at a Potluck fundraiser for the film at the Mountain View Manor in Glen Spey, New York in the Sullivan County Catskills. The event was presented by the Homestead School and Peter Comstock, Heirloom Acres, Mountain View Manor, and Lumberland Concerned Citizens (LCC). People gathered, dishes in hand, to dine, watch the film and participate in a town hall about strategies, news and concerns facing people in their communities as the Leviathan of gas drilling rages.
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This fundraiser for the film was shared with this community of concerned, activist, neighborly, organized and an increasingly growing network of residents who are finding ways to provide outreach and education, political organizing and legal methods for stopping the invasion of drillers and provided an opportunity for members from various grassroots and environmental groups and residents throughout this region of the Catskills and the Delaware River Basin to brainstorm and to share in the victories of holding off the monster so far.
This event was in Glen Spey, New York in the Sullivan County Catskills at the Mountain View Lodge, located where there used to be so many other grand hotels, and is a place that resonates with the history of Sullivan County -- a place of ethnic diversity, of a former grandness gone wild and a place a bit weary of economic swings, a place of fresh mountain air, of forests and fresh water and a fierce independence as it intertwines with its downstate neighbor of 100 miles away as it provides the water for the Big Apple.
David Morris has begun touring the region with his film, including many screenings in Pennsylvania, to share the triumph of community activism and share the faces of those living on dead rivers and in towns that have blow-outs, polluted water and angry debate about drilling. FRACK! chronicles the debate so familiar to those attending the potluck but still unknown to a huge percentage of the national population.
As guests carried in delicious dishes for the potluck, Jill Wiener and Bruce Ferguson from Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy joined Trailer Talk to talk about the threat to New York caused by vertical wells (the same technique that polluted water in Dimock, PA) that is happening now in upstate New York. They shared the triumphs of their organization that was started by a few people three-plus years ago around a kitchen table and now has over 6,000 members. As the issuance of the second draft of the Department of Environmental Conservation's SGEIS draws near and the possibility of horizontal hydrofracking in New York still looms, an event like this to support a community member and conversations with neighbors working around the clock to save what they value in their hometowns makes one wonder what is worth protecting in our own neighborhoods?
You can listen to this program here.
Sabrina Artel: Come in, David! Welcome. Thank you for joining us. And this is an event for your film. So, I'd like to know a little bit about, first of all, where you live and how you became involved in documenting what's happening for those people living on the shale, and with fracking and gas drilling.
David Morris: Well, I've been coming up to the area for about 20 years or so. I was primarily New York City-based. But I can tell you right now, for the last two years I've been based in the Catskills in a tiny place called East Branch.
I'm right along the East Branch of the Delaware River. And it's a place that I love so much. It's obviously one of the most threatened places in the state right now. And that's how I jumped in. I found out that my neighbor had signed the largest lease in Delaware County -- 2,800 acres.
SA: How are you choosing what to focus on? How have you made that decision?
DM: Well, it's like you say. We used to joke that they were coming in parachutes in the middle of the night, like a paramilitary strike force. We first started noticing them when they were building the Millennium Pipeline as well. "What's this?" "Oh, it's a big pipeline." "What for?" "Natural gas." "What natural gas?"
For me, unfortunately for Pennsylvania, that's been something I kind of think of as the "Ghost of Christmas Future." If it wasn't for what people have been going through in Pennsylvania, I wouldn't really have much of a movie right now.
SA: So, are you finding that you're focusing on what's gone wrong, what the issues are within the communities?
DM: I find that I've gravitated -- even though it makes it a much more complicated piece of film -- but I've gravitated toward taking kind of a kitchen sink approach. Somebody called it kind of a collage. And it's got footage in there from last week; it's got footage in there from over two years ago. Whatever's most relevant; whatever is telling the latest part of the story as well, because it's, as you say, it's so fast ....
SA: Are you finding that there's something that's anchoring it for you personally as you're shooting and meeting people and traveling all over the region?
DM: I have a moment in my film where I have someone on camera asking if people remember when they were in school, perhaps, and they learned about what we did in South America and Africa and third-world countries -- come in there, really damage the health of the people, damage the environment. I turn around and I see in my back yard potential for that happening -- a "third world" kind of energy extraction wasteland.
That's what you arrive at when you start looking at all the bids that add up to the big picture.
SA: And where are you with the shooting right now? I know you're going to share with us some of your footage tonight.
DM: Well, I'm showing you a version of the movie. I've shown several versions thus far, starting off in smaller venues and getting a read ... see if people like it or it makes sense. I'm ready for screenings. You can beat down my door and want a screening in your town, your city, your state. There's a version that I have specially for these public events; that's about an hour in length. It goes well if you want to have it combined with some kind of panel or community discussion.
SA: What would you like to share with people who aren't aware of what's going on with natural gas drilling, and the issues that we're facing?
DM: I would say, "Become aware as quickly as you can." I'm still surprised how many people I meet that aren't that aware. My head is way too deep into it and I have to come up for air occasionally and realize that that's the case, and that there's still more ... I mean, sometimes I feel like throwing my hands up in the air and saying, who am I trying to reach? Everyone that needs to be reached has been reached around here.
And there's a huge opportunity for this area to rebound. I've been speaking to people from New York City who want to start a whole kind of business model for local farms -- you know, milk marketed in the city, marketed as Sullivan County, Delaware County ... you know, nearby upstate New York. I'm afraid that it might not happen; they're not going to want to come here and get the milk if there's any question about the health of the environment here, and polluted water.
SA: Speaking of water -- we're both wearing these blue ribbons to represent clean, pure water that is available for everyone, and water under threat right now because of natural gas drilling. I've been asking people questions about water, so I'd like to ask them of you. What was the closest body of water to you when you were growing up?
DM: Oh, that's great. Well, this is where it comes out that I'm not really much of a native. I grew up in California. I grew up in sort of the coast ... I would say "the coast." Topanga Canyon. For a while, when I was an infant -- I was too young to remember -- we rented a broken-down apartment on the beach in Malibu, and now the property is occupied by a $50 million mansion that Cher lives in.
SA: Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy have arrived. And I hope you join me, Bruce Ferguson. This is part of the Highland Concerned Citizens group that is gathering and giving you the support here. And I'm curious, where are you at with the movie? What are your needs? What are you looking for to continue, to create the film?
DM: As far as content in the film, I'm really looking to speak to more people to get as well-rounded and as complete a picture as I can get from all kinds of perspectives, from organic farmers, conventional farmers. I'm going to Pennsylvania to visit some people that supposedly have radioactive cows.
SA: And where is that?
DM: It's in Tyler County. Supposedly they have 17 young cows that need to be quarantined because they have strontium in their bones.
SA: Are these the cows that drank the water?
DM: Yes. From a spill at a drilling site.
SA: I've been speaking with the filmmaker of "Frack! The Movie," David Morris, and we're here tonight for a benefit for his film. People are starting to arrive. I see "No Fracking" signs going into the Mountain View Lodge. We're in Glen Spey, New York.
Bruce Ferguson from Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, a volunteer-based organization in Sullivan County, New York, that is fighting fracking and providing outreach and education around issues on natural gas drilling.
Bruce Ferguson, what's happening right now? All kinds of things are escalating with the Delaware River Basin Commission. Why don't you share with us, first of all, what the mission is for the Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy? And we've spoken over the years since its formation. It's what, a little over three years now?
Bruce Ferguson: Yeah. We've been in "business," if you want to use that word, for three years. To us, it's very clear what our job is, what we have to do. We have three scientific polls that prove that when people find out about fracking, they will reject it. We know that for a fact. We have the Empire State poll from Cornell last year; we have a private study done by Earth Justice; and we have the Civil Society Institute poll that came out in December. They all show that two out of three people who find out about fracking absolutely say, "No way. The rewards are not worth the risk."
The other side of that is, three years ago, no one knew about fracking; no one had ever heard of the Marcellus Shale. Today, 8 million New Yorkers are aware of it. Most of them do not want it. Our job is to educate the other 8 million. If we can make people aware of the issue -- we don't have to hit them over the head, just give them the facts -- they will insist that this not go forward.
We looked at the vertical wells in New York that are supposedly these low-volume fracking operations, 20,000-80,000 gallons of fracking fluid, as described by the DEC. They're actually high-volume operations with up to two-thirds of a million gallons of fracking fluid in the vertical wells. We already have two dozen Marcellus wells in New York State, and they've been fracked with multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars of fracking fluid. It's a myth that we've held off high-volume fracking ... held off horizontal wells, but high-volume fracking is going on every day in New York. Every day there's a new well.
SA: And where is it going on?
BF: In the Marcellus Shale, in all of western New York. There's wells in Otsego County; I believe Chenango County; I believe in Broome County. There's a new well permit issued every day in New York, and almost every one of those wells has been fracked.
SA: So, what can we do, because as you say, it's a myth to say that we've held off on fracking. So, it's the horizontal fracturing ...
BF: We've held off on super-high-volume, but we have not held off on high-volume. We want to ask Commissioner Martens to halt all fracking in New York until new regulations are made, and if it can be done safely. It should be all controlled by the new regulations that come out -- not by regulations that were made 20 years ago that didn't even envision the kind of fracking that's going on now.
SA: Jill Wiener, from Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, is now joining us.
Jill Wiener: The 1992 New York State rules, as Bruce just said, never envisioned this volume of water, nor the slickwater. So, it was never for this chemical fracture. You know, now they're operating with these new sort of procedures, or new technologies, under the old rules.
BF: That's right. You will not find ... you try in the 1992 document ... you will not find the word "slickwater," because it hadn't been invented yet. It's an absolute industry lie to say they've been doing this since 1949. What they're doing today, they began doing a couple of years ago in Texas. It's a very new technology, and every place it's been done there have been massive problems.
SA: And when we're speaking about the damage -- polluted wells, loss of well water, complete loss, pollution -- what other things can you share with us, so again, people understand what's at stake?
JW: You know, there are certain things that you can see. You can see sick and actually deformed livestock being born. You can see skin rashes that people get from showering and bathing. You can see that people are getting sick. But what you can't actually really physically see is the devastation to community and economy.
So, you're talking about a high-impact industrial activity that's going to come into these rural communities, and that has come into rural communities in places in Colorado and all across the country -- they're fracking in 34 states now -- and the economies are completely upended, and it's now no longer a rural economy. And here, in Sullivan County, we rely on three industries. We rely on the tourism industry, agriculture and health care. And out of those three industries ... well, for sure, tourism -- forget it. Nobody's going to come and want to see a well and a bunch of roustabouts, or stay in a man camp.
Agriculture -- same thing; you just cannot produce clean food or clean milk without clean water and clean air. It just doesn't happen. And we're the foodshed for New York City.
SA: And the watershed.
JW: Health care may benefit, because in the end, we'll all get sick, and so health care has some opportunities here. But nobody else does. And the whole sort of preposterous idea that there's a workforce that's going to come out of our local people is also not true, because the workforce is imported from Texas and Oklahoma. These are very specific jobs on the well sites.
SA: It's the boom and bust, as well. It's not a sustainable economy of any kind.
JW: Exactly. No, it's totally not sustainable. And the money goes back to their homes, because these are just sort of random workers who come in and send their money home. The only local jobs may be, you know, a couple of restaurants will do well; a couple of hardware stores, gravel pits, and maybe a few security jobs will come.
BF: Let me just add one thing to that. I mean, Bradford County, Pennsylvania, is now bragging about the economic boom in their county. They're saying, "Look, all our motels are full." Now, you can say that's good, but if the workers were being hired locally, why would the motels be full? The motels are full because they're bringing in the workers from out-of-state to do the high-paying specialized jobs. And like Jill said, I went over to the well that's across the river there. The one in Abrahamsville, PA.
I spent a long time talking to the security guard there. He said, "This is great. And I lucked out; I got the 9-to-5 shift." He's standing at the gate in the weather. That's the local job. That's the reality of the local job. Exactly what Jill said -- the security guards, yeah. And if you own a hardware store or a gravel pit or a trucking company, you may do well. But for new jobs in a new industry, ain't gonna happen.
SA: So, Bruce and Jill, what has compelled you to take this on, to be part of this grassroots volunteer organization, Catskills Citizens for Safe Energy; to give your time -- I mean, a lot of your time, your effort, your energy. Why are you doing this? What do you feel that your mission is personally at this point?
BF: Well, I think it landed ... I know it landed on me. I didn't go out looking for this. I retired up here and planned to read a lot of books, and garden, travel, and this hit me over the head, and it has taken over my life. But it has also given me the most wonderful experience with the people I've met -- you, Jill -- these are people ... I would not have known you guys except for this. It's been a marvelous experience.
I also think when I go to a meeting and people are testifying, say, before the DEC or the DRBC, and I hear people get up and say all these smart, wonderful things they say, I'm just happy to be here.
SA: When you share that, Bruce, I feel also that in the middle of something that is so cataclysmic and so frightening and so upsetting on every level -- there's also something incredible about the fortitude of the community and the people I've met and continued to meet, and coming together not only for people's own lives; not for their personal interest necessarily ... I mean, in some cases, of course, to protect their homes, their water, their health, their assets, their community. But it's something that I'm finding that's much larger, and that is what keeps me going personally, because otherwise it's just devastating, and there is this feeling of, "Let me get the hell out."
JW: Well, there's nowhere to go. And so, I mean, don't think that I haven't looked. I'm sorry, but there is nowhere to go. You know, you look around the country and around the world, and everywhere is either shale or tar sands or something. There's something to be extracted out from beneath almost everybody's feet. And the thing that motivated me in the very beginning was sort of the outrage that this could actually happen, and instead of bolting up, sitting up straight at night and saying, "Oh, my God," I became very active. And the more I do, the better I feel. And the more I put the truth out there and we educate the public and the people through every possible way, the better I feel about our prospects here.
This has galvanized people in this community, from people who have been born and raised here with multiple generations behind them, to people who have just moved in, and all of a sudden, "Oh, my goodness, what are going to do here," and the cross-section of our membership and our supporters and the people who support this cause is so diverse and wonderful, and it's very much a "we" philosophy and not "me" and "I," and it is about community and the country, and it's actually, I think, the most patriotic thing that we can do, is to fight on this front.
If we can win this battle here, we move it further on. So, if we protect just our corner of the Delaware River Basin, then we move this fight on. It has been a domino effect coming from the west to the east, and we're going to push those dominoes, re-upend them, and push them back.
You can listen to this program here.