Concerned citizens and activists gathered on September 5th under threatening skies to once again make the case against fracking and to attempt to influence the governor of New York to take a nationally and internationally significant stand against the controversial method of natural gas extraction called fracking.
The protest, like the one at the beginning of August, was organized as a vigil and attracted a crowd estimated at 125. Both were well organized and stage managed by Suzannah Glidden, Susan Van Dolsen, Vitalah Simon, Jennifer Lahey and Ellen Weininger, (Educational Outreach Coordinator for GrassrootsInfo.org. To get in touch with the organizers or join their mailing list, send an email to Westchester4Change@gmail.com. This week’s vigil was held on the front steps of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Mt. Kisco and featured 17 speakers and a number of musical performances. Lawn signs were placed at the edge of the front lawn and elicited supportive horn honking and shouts of encouragement from many passing motorists.
Readers unfamiliar with the issues surrounding fracking can consult sources available on my (newly updated) anti-fracking resource page here . In general terms, fracking involves injecting water and sand laced with a number of chemicals, many of them undisclosed and many toxic, deep underground to extract methane gas so it can be used as a fossil fuel. The process uses and irreversibly contaminates enormous quantities of water, has led to ground- and well-water contamination, has been implicated in a broad range of health impacts, brings dangerous radioactive substances to the surface, has caused earthquakes and noise and air pollution. While in a limited sense the claim that burning natural gas is “cleaner than coal” is accurate, some studies have found that after factoring in leakage at the well-site and in transport, the whole lifecycle of methane from extraction to combustion releases the same amount of greenhouse gasses as the use of other fossil fuels and so methane can play no significant role in mitigating climate change.
The vigil was directed at Governor Andrew Cuomo because his administration will make the decision about whether or not fracking will be allowed in New York State. There have been indications that a decision will be announced in the near future. “Highly placed administration officials” have recently revealed that a compromise plan has been under consideration in which fracking would be allowed in five economically depressed counties along the “Southern Tier” bordering Pennsylvania, and then only in communities which agree to it. Fracking activists refer to these counties as the “sacrifice zone.” Fracking would be banned in Catskill Park, aquifers and nationally designated historic districts.
Supporters of fracking claim that there will be financial advantages for landowners who lease their land to drillers, and that areas where drilling takes place will see increased economic activity and a significant number of new jobs. While landowners have received money for leases, many report that their property values have plummeted, that drilling conditions have made their homes virtually uninhabitable, that their water has become undrinkable and that serious illness and death has resulted from substances released by the process. In some cases, insurers have refused or dropped coverage for homes impacted by fracking. Evaluations of economic claims have shown that benefits are often short-lived, and that the bulk of new jobs are filled by workers from out of state.
The vigil in Mt Kisco on Wednesday is a relatively modest part of an increasingly large, vocal and sophisticated anti-fracking movement in New York State, with ties to similar protest movements across the country and around the world. Many people, both supporters and opponents, have come to believe that the battle over fracking in New York will be a significant turning point in the controversy. As one speaker at the vigil put it, “the whole world’s watching New York.” After the vigil Suzannah Glidden connected the Mt. Kisco event with a widespread and growing movement. Most of the organizers participated in the anti-fracking rally in Albany on August 25th. That event was attended by more than 1,000 people, including Josh Fox, Debra Winger and Bill McKibben. She discusses with some heat the growing dedication and determination of a steadily increasing number of activists, some willing to put their “lives on the line with nonviolent direct action should it become necessary.”
The vigil, ably MC’d by Ms. Glidden, featured contributions from activists, concerned citizens, clergy, doctors and musicians. Different aspects of the case against fracking were presented, including arguments and evidence from environmental, health, and economic viewpoints.
Clergy and members of congregations were on hand to offer prayers and statements, many centered on the religiously mandated duty of stewardship. Judie Zingher and Vicki Presser of Bet Am Shalom provided a call to conscience in the blowing of the shofar, described arrestingly as an admonition to “Wake up!” Rev. Melissa Boyer, Pastor at Katonah United Methodist Church, offered a prayer to a God of “many names,” Allah, Adonai, Universe, and Creator among them, acknowledging that “we did not create this earth we inhabit” and asking that we be granted the strength to use our “gifts of reason and imagination to solve the problem of how to get the energy we need without harming the planet.” Rabbi Lester Krantz of Congregation B’nai Yisrael taught that we must not “destroy our world because there will be no one to put it right after.” Jordan Hersh, studying at Jewish Theological Seminary and an intern at Temple Israel Center in White Plains spoke passionately of “a simple truth: if we defile the earth it will vomit us out.” Dr. Mahjabeen Hassan, a physician, talked about the responsibility toward caring for the earth which Islam teaches. Rev. Karen A. Burger, pastor of United Methodist Church of Mt. Kisco led those attending in a prayer of hope and duty. Jennifer Lahey read a statement from Dr. Chip Andrus of South Salem Presbyterian Church.
Some of the speakers were people whose personal experiences of fracking led them to become activists. Tanyette Colon, co-founder of MUST (Mothers United for Sustainable Technology) spoke of families whose “water went black.” She described the process of the fight against fracking becoming personal: One lone parent, standing up against her school district because three hundred kids attend school near fracking equipment and the district has no evacuation plan; a Pennsylvania man, actively fighting fracking despite poor health, who says, “It’s too late for me, but there’s still time for New York.”
Brenda Bergstrom read Sean Lennon’s op-ed from the New York Times, an article which has attracted a lot of attention from people not previously aware of the dangers of fracking. The article can be found here. Mr. Lennon and his mother Yoko Ono have organized Artists against Fracking, an organization which has recruited nearly two hundred artists, including such luminaries as Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney, David Geffen and Deepak Chopra.
Dr. Larysa Dyrszka, a pediatrician, spoke of the significant health dangers of radioactive substances released by fracking. She pointed out that, according to the National Cancer Institute, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer.
Pramilla Malick of StopMCA, an organization founded to fight the natural gas compressor station in Minisink, spoke of her organizing work and pointed out that much of the non-drilling natural gas infrastructure poses real environmental, health and safety risks, saying she’s fighting against the use of “equipment that makes a noise like a jet airplane 24 hours a day and is prone to large explosions.”
Erin Heaton, a resident of New Berlin in Chenango County, a town in one of the “sacrifice zones,” made a case against allowing fracking in hopes of receiving economic benefits which, according to studies and extensive anecdotal evidence, will never outweigh the eventual economic costs. The case against economic justifications for fracking were further bolstered by Jill Wiener of Catskills Citizens for Safe Energy.
Organizer Susan Van Dolsen, the final speaker, outlined ways people can take specific action to attempt to influence the outcome of the battle against fracking, including calling and writing to Governor Cuomo. A summary of her suggestions for getting involved appear at the end of this article.
There were also a number of musical interludes, many provided by Earth Tones, a musical group featuring organizer Jennifer Lahey. Songs included: We Shall Not Be Moved, I’m on My Way ( … to a frack-free world), Oh Shenandoah, and This Land is Your Land. Cellist Shaheen Malick performed Pablo Casals’ Song of the Birds.
fter the event, organizer Susan Van Dolsen discussed the anti-fracking struggle in terms of political reality. Asked what effect the opposition to fracking demonstrated at the vigil was likely to have on the governor, she said that no single event was likely to have a decisive effect on his decision, but that increasing pressure from ordinary citizens taken in the aggregate should exert some influence. She believes that many politicians are swayed by positions taken by celebrities and their fans, and that positions taken by such people as Mark Ruffalo and Sean Lennon could make a difference. She pointed out that there’s a good chance that allowing fracking could well have an adverse on Governor Cuomo’s political future, and that he is especially vulnerable in terms of his promises to improve New York’s economy. She will be concentrating in the coming months on making the what she believes is the especially persuasive economic case against fracking, particularly effective with citizens for whom environmental, health and justice arguments are less compelling. Laura Niederhofer agreed with many of Ms. Van Dolsen’s points and talked about her work with Chefs for the Marcellus, a group of more than 100 chefs, restaurateurs and other food professionals actively opposing fracking, including celebrity chef Mario Batali.
As the quietly determined participants dispersed in the gathering evening, another public demonstration of serious opposition to fracking in Westchester County and expression of a fervent desire that their voices be heard come to a conclusion.
For links to many of the organizations mentioned in this article, as well as other organizations and resources, please see my (newly updated) anti-fracking resource page here.
Here is a summary of Susan Van Dolsen’s suggestions to get involved:
“The purpose is to build on the local grassroots activist movement. We need help from all of you in various ways. Here are some ways you can help:”
- Get in contact by sending an email to Westchester4Change@gmail.com to be stay current or start a dialogue
- Call Governor Cuomo
- Write to Governor Cuomo via easy website: AMillionFrackingLetters.com
- Support the faith-based initiatives – clergy, outreach to your congregations, and members, encourage your congregation’s leaders to get involved.
- Write Letters to Editor.
- Sign-on: Letter to Michelle Obama – MothersForSustainableEnergy.com (The Mothers Project)
- Get involved in the attempt to pass frack waste prohibition legislation in Westchester
- Contact Us about your creative activist ideas at www.grassrootsinfo.org under About Grassroots. Look at their Calendar page for details of upcoming events. Your presence is needed.
- Wear your No Fracking buttons. Speak to people, let them know, they have a right to know. Share your concerns and you will be surprised by the interest and feedback you receive.