New York Should Become the First State to Ban Fracking
Adelaide Park Gomer, president of the Park Foundation based in Ithaca, New York, received the Advocacy Award from Common Cause for her work fighting fracking. Gomer is as a knowledgeable and passionate defender of independent media, environmental sustainability, and higher education, as well as of democratic and transparent governance.
She and the Park Foundation have been among the staunchest supporters of the antifracking movement in New York, as the gas industry is poised to begin this dangerous, dirty, and destructive practice throughout much of the state, should Governor Andrew Cuomo give it the green light-which could happen very soon despite the overwhelming evidence that fracking poisons air, water, soil and food supply, endangers public health, and shows no long-term economic benefit.
The award was given at a banquet held in New York City on November 29, 2011. Among the guests were many grassroots activists, NGO staff members, and and independent journalists whose antifracking, pro-environmental, or reporting work has been supported by Gomer's and the Park Foundation's philanthropy. During her speech, Gomer was interrupted by applause numerous times and received two standing ovations.
This is the speech she delivered in accepting the award.
This is an honor I certainly did not expect. I have always resonated with and respected the work of Common Cause. Thank you so much for this recognition. It means a lot to me.
Recently my daughter, Alicia, and I took an evening flight from Philadelphia to Ithaca. While over Pennsylvania, we noticed that a once-beautiful wilderness area was now dotted and lit up by blinding white lights and eerily disturbing gas flares. There were too many fracking operations to count. New York State will go the way of Pennsylvania unless we continue to take a stand against one of the greatest environmental atrocities of our generation.
Three years ago, I first read about the gas industry's plan to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in a process called fracking. I felt somewhat like an Iraqi must have felt in reaction to “shock and awe.” Hydraulic fracking drills up to 8,000 feet into the bowels of the Earth. It requires millions of gallons of water and hundreds of unidentified chemicals (including carcinogens) to extract tiny bubbles of methane gas that have formed over millions of years. Radioactive materials, brine, and heavy metals are also brought up to the surface. These materials are extremely toxic. As with nuclear materials, there is no way to dispose of them. Yet in some cases, the waste fluid has been marketed as salt and spread on our roads.
Fracking will ruin our pristine landscapes, agriculture, our tourism, and our wine industry. Wine alone is a $3.7 billion-a-year industry in New York State.
And fracking will ruin our health.
As a cancer survivor, I am concerned about the shockingly rising rates of environmentally caused cancer in our population. Why would we want to expose ourselves to more carcinogenic chemicals? Do we want another Love Canal, on a much vaster scale? According to biologist Sandra Steingraber, the 1,500-page New York State draft environmental impact statement on fracking mentions the word “cancer” a total of 10 times.
Eight years ago, Alicia suggested that our foundation focus our environmental grant-making on water. Our grants now concentrate on preserving the quantity and quality of potable water east of the Mississippi. Our goal is to establish water as a commons-publicly-supported and available for everyone.
Although 70 percent of the Earth is covered by water, most of this is salt water; only 2.5 percent is fresh water. Much of that is frozen in the polar icecaps and in deep inaccessible underground aquifers. This means that less than 1 percent of the world's fresh water is available for the seven billion people who now walk the earth . . . and how much of this is being polluted even as I speak?
The oil and gas industry admits that there are significant problems with their wells and wide spread risk of contamination and leakage. And, let's remember that water flows. It flows under the ground through cracks and crevices and on the ground in tributaries. It is transported above ground, encased as a commodity in plastic bottles. Our bodies are 65 percent water. Water sustains us. Water connects us all.
Regionally, Park helped jump-start a sustainability initiative in Tompkins County, with the intent of making Ithaca a national model for sustainable communities. Fracking would erase the hard-won gains of our work. Vegetables irrigated with contaminated water are hardly organic.
We believe that the pillars of the 21st century are clean water and air, alternative energy, and economic justice.
Perceiving how fracking undermined water and sustainability, we looked for partners to work with around hydrofracking. We approached the issue from every angle. We supported science, research, corporate influence, policy, legal issues, health effects, economic forecasting, grassroots efforts, media, and investment strategies. This is the first time that we used such a comprehensive approach to an issue in concert with so many strategic partners.
Our uphill battle has been consistently countered by the fossil fool industry who barrage the corporate media 24/7. They must feel threatened. And they should, for the truth is a potent equalizer, as we are now seeing in the occupy and related protests worldwide.
Like water, money also flows. Recently, our foundation has been moving our portfolio into ESG investments-those that take into account environmental, social, and governance issues. We are looking at the triple bottom line and will be replacing our oil and gas stocks with investments in clean alternative energy.
Our true bottom line is the good we do in the world. The management of our capital assets will reflect our values and ideals. However, we are being strategic. We will continue to retain only enough shares in oil and gas stock to exercise shareholder activism, which we did with ExxonMobil in 2009. Tom Van Dyck is helping us with this transition.
In contrast, Governor Andrew Cuomo is moving in the opposite direction. He seems to think that the problems of fracking can be solved by regulating where the operations are located. For instance, New York City and Syracuse watersheds would be off limits to fracking. But what about the rest of New York State, and especially the Finger Lakes, which is the home of 7 percent of the world's accessible fresh water? How dare we pollute this water for us and future generations? This is absolutely an environmental justice issue!
Given the green light, Governor Cuomo might decide to welcome an army of corporate mercenaries to ravage and plunder significant portions of our magnificent state. Albany politicians are beating the drum for jobs, which resonates in a time of economic crisis. But most of the fracking jobs will be filled by temporary out-of-state workers. Moreover, the gas industry will destroy over 56,000 jobs that support the tourism industry. Financial benefit to local communities, if any, will be minimal and short-term, and will bring severe environmental consequences. Who will clean up our land and water, once they have been devastated? We know how this works: privatize the profits, and socialize the losses! Besides, fracking is a boom-and-bust proposition. Renewable energy is the fastest growing job sector, and it is safe and long lasting!
We also need to consider the impact of fracking along existing fault lines. Emerging data link increased seismic activity to fracking worldwide.
The imposition of fracking is symptomatic of what has been plaguing our world, typified by the Citizens United decision that gave giant corporations unfair, undemocratic, and unfettered control of our political system. Our planet and its inhabitants are being sacrificed in increasingly aggressive and rapacious ways, all for the almighty buck.
In our work to oppose fracking, the Park Foundation has simply helped to fuel an army of courageous individuals and NGOs. These are the real heroes, performing Herculean tasks. These true champions of the movement have made incredible sacrifices to protect our state. There are also the unheralded New Yorkers who have run for local office on a no-drilling platform, those who have written letters to the editor and comment letters to the environmental review process, those who have called the Governor and their elected officials to share their views, and those who regularly turn out for protests, rallies, and community meetings. So many thousands of creative and courageous people are engaged, and this army keeps growing. In watching this happen I find much to celebrate and great hope.
I would like to thank Common Cause for investigating the role of money in politics as it relates to fracking. This research illuminated the reach of gas drilling industry money in campaigns and lobbying in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. The gas and oil industry has spent more than $747 million over the last 10 years in lobbying and political spending alone, without any government intervention or regulation. The new information has helped rally the public in out state against their destructive and dangerous fracking operations.
I would also like to acknowledge Bill Moyers, who is with us tonight. If the mainstream media reflected his brilliance, insight, integrity, and courage, our country would be totally transformed. We would have a literate and enlightened populace. Many of us have missed hearing his voice of reason in a time of madness. Fortunately, in January he will be launching his new show, "Moyers and Company."
It is heartening that people are beginning to realize that if frackers are invited into New York State, the only recourse we'll have is to hit the streets and use civil disobedience. Nothing short of a total ban can save us from this unfolding tragedy! We believe that New York must become the first state to ban fracking, taking a leadership role that the rest of the country can then rally behind. There is nothing less than our future at stake.
There is power in this room. It is important that if Cuomo should change his mind and come out against fracking, he knows that we in this room and our thousands of allies around the state will have his back. I hope that each one of us will play a significant role in ensuring that New York State does not go the route of Pennsylvania.
I urge all of you to write or call the governor, along with your state and local legislators. Send in your comments about the draft environmental impact statement to the NY Department of Conservation by the December 12 deadline. See the website of the Trumansburg-based grassroots organization Back to Democracy, “backtodemocracy.org,” for more information on how to submit comments.
I will conclude with a Cree Nation proverb: “Only when the last tree has died, and the last river has been poisoned, and the last fish has been caught, will we realize we cannot eat money.”
Together let's make sure this prophecy is not fulfilled.
Thank you on behalf of the Park Foundation. To all my friends and allies in this fight, I salute you.
NO FRACKING WAY!