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Fracking Gets Its Own Occupy Movement
Posted on Jan 25, 2012
By Ellen Cantarow, TomDispatch
A World of Water
In study groups and online tutorials, activists prepared to write letters of commentary and protest to the Department of Environmental Conservation and Governor Cuomo, and to speak out in public hearings the department was organizing around the state. Thousands attended these. Pro-gas speakers predictably stuck to the twin themes of the jobs fracking would produce and the economic renewal it would bring about.
Opponents included an impressive line up of scientists (among them Robert Howarth, co-author of last year’s landmark Cornell University study, which established the staggering greenhouse-gas footprint of fracking), engineers, lawyers, and other professionals. A letter sent to Cuomo by 250 New York State physicians and medical professionals deplored the DEC’s failure to attend to the public health impacts of fracking.
Part-time Cooperstown resident James “Chip” Northrup, a retired manager for Atlantic Richfield (ARCO, America’s seventh largest oil corporation), in one public agency hearing called the performances of pro-gas speakers “disgraceful” and the SGEIS “junk science.” Citing an industry study that shows 25% of frack wells leak after five years and 40% after eight, he said, “Everybody in the industry knows that gas drilling pollutes groundwater… It’s not… whether they leak. It’s how much.”
As 2012 began, the movement was demanding that the department withdraw the SGEIS. In mid-January, DEC spokesperson Lisa King said that once all the comments are tallied, “We expect the total to be more than 40,000.” Earlier, agency officials had told the New York Times they didn’t know of any other issue that had received even 1,000 comments. (Ten thousand letters were mailed from the Catskills’ Sullivan County alone on January 11th, just before the commentary deadline.) Gannett’s Albany Bureau has reported that anti-drilling submissions outnumber those of drilling supporters by at least ten to one.
Sustainable Otsego’s website lists 52 serious and fatal flaws in the document. A letter posted at the website of Toxics Targeting, an environmental database service in Ithaca, elaborately details 17 major SGEIS flaws. By January 10th, when the Toxics Targeting letter was sent to the DEC and the Governor, it had more than 22,000 signatures representing government officials, professional and civic organizations, and individuals. (The DEC counts this letter with its signatures as only one of the 40,000 comments.)
At a November 17th rally in Trenton, New Jersey, to celebrate the postponement of a vote on allowing fracking in the Delaware River Basin, Pennsylvania and New York activists pledged future civil disobedience. “The broad coalition of anti-frackers has been operating on multi-levels all at once,” says Sustainable Otsego’s chair, Adrian Kuzminsky. If the governor approves the SGEIS “there will be massive disillusionment with the state government and Cuomo, and from what I’m hearing there will be ‘direct action’ and civil disobedience in some quarters.”
At the moment, in fact, the anti-fracking movement in the state only seems to be ramping up. Should the government approve the SGEIS in its current form, lawsuits are planned against the Department of Environmental Conservation. And a brief “Occupy DEC” event that took place in the state capital, Albany, on January 12th may have set the tone for the future. Meanwhile some activists, turning their backs on established channels, are already working on legislation that would criminalize fracking.
This past November, Sandra Steingraber told a crowd of hundreds of activists why she was donating her $100,000 Heinz Award to the movement. The money, she said, “enables speech, emboldens activism, and recognizes that true security for our children lies in preserving the… ecology of our planet.”
She raised a jar of water. “This is what my kids are made of. They are made of water. They are made of the food that is grown in the county that I live in. And they are made of air. We inhale a pint of atmosphere with every breath we take… And when you poison these things, you poison us. That is a violation of our human rights, and that is why this is the civil rights issue of our day.”
Ellen Cantarow’s work on Israel/Palestine has been widely published for more than 30 years. Her longtime concern with climate change has led her to explore, at TomDispatch, the global depredations of oil and gas corporations. Many thanks to Robert Boyle, sometimes called “the father of environmentalism on the Hudson,” for sharing his expertise for this article.
Copyright 2012 Ellen Cantarow
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