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Activists say, ‘No fracking way!’

Published Dec 20, 2009 8:29 PM

Across New York state and Pennsylvania dozens of environmental activist groups are working to ban or limit the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

Fracking involves injecting millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure down and across horizontally drilled wells as far as 10,000 feet below the surface. The pressure causes the release of natural gas. Millions of gallons of chemical-laden wastewater are created in the process.

Members of Ithaca’s Green Guerrilla collective.

Since 2008, more than 4,000 gas wells that use fracking have been drilled in Pennsylvania. There are more than 13,680 in New York state. The industry has grown by paying impoverished, rural northern Appalachian landowners for access to their land.

Many of the 260 chemicals suspected to be in the mix are known carcinogens and endocrine disrupters. Chemicals have been shown to spread 30 miles underground.

In Dimrock, Pa., 30 people filed a lawsuit against Cabot Oil & Gas in November after water wells exploded and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection cited the company for several spills of fuel and drilling fluids. The spills are suspected to have caused a major fish kill.

In October the New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s first public review of natural gas drilling drew more than 300 people in rural Sullivan County. Speakers at a raucous hearing in New York City on Nov. 10 called for a statewide ban of drilling in the city’s upstate watershed, which supplies drinking water to 9 million city residents.

Green Guerrillas’ Youth Media Tech Collective consists of youth of color ages 15 through 19, who plan to create an online movie to expose the issues of natural gas exploitation. They participated in the DEC’s last public hearing in Corning, N.Y., as well as a local government hearing in Ithaca. Workers World spoke with members of the collective about their activities.

WW: Who are the Green Guerrillas?

GG:Our collective is an intergenerational crew of media makers which values young people’s creative insights and capacities to transform their reality as leaders and participants for change. As low-income youth of color, Green Guerrillas redefine sustainability in terms that make sense to us.

We make our own media, from posters to movies; do outreach at community events; and analyze important social, political, economic and environmental issues that affect our lives. We connect the dots between the same ideological approaches that criminalize immigrant communities and pollute the air, water and soil.

WW: How did you become aware of fracking?

GG: Adult members of Green Guerrillas first encountered the landsmen who have been scouring the Southern Tier region of New York state, offering landowners money in exchange for the mineral rights to the gas beneath their land. As we spent the summer of 2009 exploring our natural environment, in anticipation of making our fourth film, we couldn’t ignore this issue.

At the end of September, the New York state government announced that its Department of Environmental Conservation had completed a draft study to regulate unconventional gas drilling and would begin issuing drilling permits once the draft was finalized after a 60-day public comment period. We joined with other concerned activists nationwide to raise awareness of the problems associated with hydrofracking.

WW:What kind of problems have people confronted and how extensive are they?

GG:Problems include contaminated well water; methane contamination, causing water to become flammable; and drilling rigs erected within 200 feet of peoples’ homes. Property values have plummeted, with people unable to stay on their land yet unable to sell because it was too toxic.

Health problems, including skin rashes and neurological disorders, and unmanageable medical bills associated with treatment for illnesses likely to have been caused by exposure to hydrofracking chemicals are also problems. Because of the 2005 energy bill, chemicals in hydrofracking fluids need not be disclosed.

There has been no accountability for gas leaks or chemical spills and no plan for waste water treatment. There is a continued denial by gas companies that their operations are negatively impacting the areas.

WW: What was your experience at the public hearings?

GG: We traveled to Corning for the last DEC public hearing in our veggie-diesel bus. When we arrived, 98 speakers were ahead of us. There were around 500 people in attendance. We joined in a protest outside the building.

Green Guerrillas were first in line for the hearing in Ithaca the following day, where nearly 1,000 people gathered after a community rally. We offered a short skit to document the accounts of those who have been negatively impacted by fracking. All of the comments were recorded and forwarded to the DEC.

WW: Where do efforts stand now?

GG:Initially the DEC offered four public hearings, with a public comment period that was to end on Nov. 30. After a large public push for a six-month comment period, the DEC later extended it to Dec. 31.

There are multiple calls for Gov. Patterson to ban drilling statewide. Ithaca-based Toxics Targeting has issued a letter requesting that Patterson withdraw approval of any additional permits based on 270 documented oil and gas spills in New York that have yet to be cleaned up. More than 6,500 organizations and concerned people have signed the letter. (www.toxicstargeting.com)

WW: What’s next?

GG:We have been working with our local action network through our online presence: www.changents.com/green-guerrillas and www.guerrillagriots.wordpress.com. We created a new poster board on what the Marcellus Shale is, how hydraulic fracturing works and what people have experienced, plus why natural gas exploitation is not a transition from coal to a renewable future.

We recently became finalists in Free Range Studio’s Youtopia contest to get technical assistance with creating an online movie to expose the hydrofracking that affects 31 states. We plan to continue to raise awareness at a prisoner justice conference in Albany in March, and at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit in June.