If you sit by and wait for others to stop the industrialization of New York State, we’ve already lost.

by Maura Stephens
17 August, 2012

A recent thread on a sustainability list-serve ended with the words: “Gratitude to those in direct actions to keep attention on fracking issues.”

I think it’s safe to speak for antifracktivists collectively when I say they don’t want to be thanked.

Don’t thank them. Join them. It’s not enough to do the positive work of protecting our environment, creating a strong local economy, and building a better society. Because those efforts are all endangered by fracking.

In places like Tompkins County, where many individuals and organizations are engaged in extraordinary projects and enterprises for the long-term common good, perhaps people have been too busy to have noticed just how quickly we are about to lose much of what we love. And that’s understandable. The work so many of us are engaged in to positively affect change, from our basements’ insulation to national policy, is hard, often frustrating, and time consuming. Besides, mainstream media is little more than corporate flak, and if we’re too busy to pay close attention, we could easily buy into the line that “natural” gas is “safe, clean, and good for the economy.”

The fossil-fuel industry and the politicians in its pocket recognize this and have counted on our being too engaged elsewhere — whether we’re just Joe Shmos desperately trying to keep a roof over our heads and food in our bellies or we’re actively engaged sustainability advocates and teachers — to fight back.

But make no mistake: This industry is an insidious, soulless, stealthy and fast-moving enemy who cares nothing for our well being or longevity.

Mad Scramble

This multitrillion-dollar-corporate invasion is coming at us so quickly it’s impossible to keep up, let alone keep a step ahead. The fracking companies have been laying the groundwork for this industrial onslaught for many years, but only recently has the public become aware of their plans.

In the Marcellus shale region — Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and much of New York including Tompkins County — the geology and geography are different from other shale regions such as the Barnett in Texas. So Pennsylvania was taken unawares. We in New York have the advantage of having observed what is going on in our neighboring state to the south. We have been fortunate here to have abundant fresh water (one of the reasons, in fact, I chose to live here).

But people have been waking up, and they’re from a wide variety of backgrounds, experience, and personal philosophies (and political persuasions). In the last three or four years, longtime conservationists, environmentalists, economic justice advocates, and democracy-builders have taken their activism to a new level as they have added antifracktivism to their “prosustainability-ism.” And newcomers to these issues, terrified by the scientific and social evidence about fracking’s harms, have become activists for the first time in their lives.

The mix of experience and perspective makes for interesting and challenging work. But there still are not enough dedicated sustainability-minded people engaged in the fight to keep fracking from destroying everything we work so hard to accomplish.

I believe we must all be antifracktivists.

We cannot survive with all the things we cherish about living in this beautiful state unless everyone “takes direct actions on fracking issues.” If more people don’t engage to resist this one overarching threat, all the terrific sustainability work — permaculture, conservation, forest foraging, recycling, reducing impact, walking, biking, building solar heaters, installing geothermal systems, efficient mass transportation, starting community wind farms, community agriculture, organic farming, reclaiming and reusing fabric and building supplies, maple sugaring, vineyard tending, orchard planting, green building, guaranteeing a living wage, you name it — will be for naught.

If people in all these movements would devote just a quarter of the time they now spend on sustainability and related issues to fighting fracking, I am convinced we will beat this juggernaut.

Many in the antifracking fight have spent the last several years disengaged from the positive and joyful work of gardening, embracing community, making art and building sustainable, conservation-oriented systems. Instead, we have been studying fracking from all angles.

This heavy industry touches every aspect of our lives: the water and air we need to survive; the croplands that feed us; the finances that sustain us (jobs or lack thereof, community taxes and wealth, property values, housing affordability, liabilities); our physical health and longevity; the governing systems that remove decision making from the informed public and grant them to rich and powerful corporations, the politicians in their pockets and the hoodwinked whose information comes from those very untrustworthy corporations and politicians; our relationships with our neighbors; the way of life we have chosen; and, of course, our mental and emotional health — often already precarious from stress, terror, sleeplessness and, in the case of many who leased their lands before realizing the dangers, guilt and remorse.

Millions of us recognize that this industry will destroy most of the things we need to live fulfilling lives, while it contributes massive amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, further hastening catastrophic global climate disruption.

Nowhere to Hide

Finger Lakes and Hudson Valley residents should not think they’re going to escape the harms of fracking. We all know that water and air pollution know no political boundaries, and the destruction of a few bodies of water can have far-reaching detrimental effects. Besides, should fracking begin anywhere in New York State, the door is open. Industry will stop at nothing to get every molecule of methane in the Marcellus and Utica shales.

If the precedent is set and fracking begins in the Southern Tier counties, it is only a matter of time before it moves into Tompkins and the rest of the shale regions.

Our nearby town of Reading, on the southwestern corner of the biggest (by volume) Finger Lake, Seneca, is poised to allow Missouri-based Inergy, Inc., to store liquid petroleum gas and liquid “natural” gas in an empty salt mine. There are more than 60 such empty salt mines around Seneca Lake, and several hundred around Cayuga and the other Finger Lakes.

One would have to be dangerously naïve to not realize the first such cavern storage that’s permitted will lead to scores more — with the compressor stations, noise, fumes, and transportation snarls (and likely eventually some refineries) that go along with such “storage facilities.”

Tompkins County residents have witnessed and documented “spills” from frack-waste trucks coming north from Pennsylvania, and we’re seeing increasing numbers of refugees from Ohio and Pennsylvania moving to New York in hopes of finding a more sensible policy toward fracking.

And this is much more than a regional problem. The industrial raping (word chosen deliberately) of lands for fracking and for distribution of the methane that will be shipped abroad (it is not intended for domestic consumption but will go to the highest bidders, primarily China, Japan, and India in the short term) is going on all over the country now — in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. (Alaska and Hawaii were already being mined heavily for oil and gas, but as far as I know that’s conventional drilling, not fracking.)

Where fracking isn’t happening, pipelines are or will likely be going in. The ports of northern California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington, as well as Gulf of Mexico states, are becoming or likely to become home to new export facilities, which means more pipelines crisscrossing the entire country — and more accidents. And peripheral industries are popping up. Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin are being mined for sand to be used in fracking; this causes tremendous air congestion and health problems from cancer-causing silica dust, as well as the truck diesel fumes.

We can’t all move to Maine or one of the few other states that is not being fracked or under threat of fracking. Nor can we all go camp out in a state or national forest, either; many of them have been opened up to fracking.

In times past, many of us thought that if things got too bad in this country, we might escape to Canada. But Canada, under ultraconservative prime minister Stephen Harper (whose idol is George W. Bush), has become a vast environmental dump as well, pushing a fully fossil-fuel economy and weakening environmental protections that were once considered excellent but are now a joke.

Not that anyone is laughing . . . except for the fossil fuel executives and the politicians in their pockets.

Besides Canada, there may have been some other places you thought you’d end up someday. But if you want to avoid fracking or coal-seam gas mining, it will be pretty tough.

Shale-gas countries currently being fracked or threatened include Ireland, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, Algeria, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria (where there’s a fragile ban), Chile, China, Colombia, Denmark, France (where there’s a more solid ban), Germany, India, Libya, Lithuania, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Paraguay, Poland, Romania, South Africa, Sweden, Tasmania, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela and Western Sahara. There are probably others I haven’t yet heard about.

What To Do?

The options are not too many:

  1. You could check into France’s immigration policy toward people from the USA.
  2. You could resign yourself to the inevitability of fracking everywhere you love, and try to learn to live with 24/7 traffic, noise, light, clogged roads, smoggy air, higher crime rates, lower property values, expensive water brought in from who knows where, and a greatly diminished quality of life—at best.
  3. Or you can get involved in the antifracking fight. It’s not quite too late. If everyone reading this who has not previously been involved in fighting fracking gets and remains engaged until fracking is outlawed in New York State — we may yet have a sustainable future. As an added bonus, many of the people you’ll meet in this movement will restore or reinforce your faith in humanity and its future. And meeting you will do them wonders, too.

Whatever you do, please don’t thank an antifracktivist unless you’re prepared to join in the effort.

Write info@coalitiontoprotectnewyork.org to be put in touch with the antifracking group in your area. Please do it now. We need your renewing, renewable energy to be part of the fight for our shared positive future.

Lifelong sustainability advocate Maura Stephens lives in Spencer. She was an active early member of Sustainable Tompkins but has been sidetracked these last several years by fighting fracking. She is a cofounder of Coalition to Protect New York, FrackBustersNY, RAFT (Residents Against Fracking Tioga) and SAVE S-VE (Spencer-Van Etten). She has spent the last several years researching, writing, rewriting and rewriting a book titled Frack Attack: Fighting Back.