Three years and counting.
Three years ago, a handful of people got together in the kitchen of a farmhouse near the Delaware River. We assembled because we were concerned about rumors that a lot of land in the area was being leased for what seemed to be a new kind of natural gas drilling called “fracking.” No one knew much about fracking, but when we heard that it entailed injecting huge quantities of toxic chemicals into the ground, we had enough common sense to be concerned.
Over time, that little group became Catskill Citizens. We now count over five thousand members-and we’re just one of dozens of groups in the region that have organized to combat what we now know is an unprecedented threat to public health, our environment, and our local economies.
Our grassroots movement has enjoyed a degree of success that we never could have imagined-it has stymied some of the richest and most powerful corporations in America. After three years, New Yorkers still enjoy a de facto moratorium on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, and each day, more and more of us come to realize that shale gas extraction, in anything like its current form, is an unacceptable energy alternative for the state and for the nation.
Despite all we’ve accomplished, we still have a long way to go. High-volume fracking could get underway in New York within the year, and other parts of country, including Pennsylvania, are already being devastated by fracking.
We need a strategy that will build on our success and protect all Americans, both now and in the future.
Keep the conversation alive.
This may be the single most important weapon in our arsenal. We know that when New Yorkers learn about fracking, most of them conclude that the rewards aren’t worth the risk. But we also know that half of all New Yorkers still don’t know about the issue. If we can provide people with the facts, the public will demand that the state prohibit unsafe shale gas extraction.
An honest discussion about any aspect of shale gas extraction will build support for a rational public policy. Virtually every issue that’s raised, from predatory leasing practices and road use, to federal environmental exemptions and water contamination, undermines public support for fracking. And on close examination, even the industry’s most powerful arguments are shown to be bogus. Natural gas is not a “clean” fuel, it will not provide America with energy independence, and shale gas extraction does not have a positive economic impact on regional economies.
Shale gas extraction must be treated as a public health issue.
The health threats posed by drinking water contamination and toxic airborne emissions must be central to our campaign against unsafe fracking. Public health agencies at the state, federal, and local levels must become fully engaged with this issue.
In New York State, that means the Department of Health must be named as co-lead agency (along with the Department of Environmental Conservation) on all matters pertaining to shale gas extraction.
New York State must continue to bar high-volume fracking until all of the health and safety issues have been adequately addressed.
It’s perfectly clear that there are a host of problems with fracking, and it’s not up to the citizens of New York to endure the downside of drilling. It’s the industry’s responsibility to clean up its act (if it can), and it’s the government’s responsibility to protect us until that’s been accomplished.
Demand that New York State reconsider low-volume fracking.
Over ten thousand wells have already been hydraulically fractured in New York State, and many of these operations have utilized the same secret toxic chemicals that are employed in high-volume operations. Not surprisingly, there have been hundreds of spills and accidents, and evidence of drinking water contamination is now coming to light.
New York cannot afford to regulate low-volume fracking under rules that were put in place almost twenty years ago. All oil and gas extraction operations in the state must be governed by the forthcoming Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement.
Fight on every front.
We can never lose sight of the fact that we’re up against an entrenched industry. Right now, fracking is going on in thirty-four states. We can’t wish it out of existence, and we can’t expect our politicians and regulatory agencies to do the right thing of their own accord-there’s too much money on the table for that to ever happen. Real protection will only come when the public demands it-and that means we have to use every means at our disposal to raise public awareness.
While we seek to have dangerous practices prohibited, we can’t afford to gamble on a winner-take-all strategy. We also need to address everything from road use and zoning issues at the town level up to environmental exemptions and government subsidies at the federal level. Gains on any of these fronts will provide some measure of protection, and the ongoing discussions will create the level of public awareness that is essential if we are to prevail.
Global… and local.
By now it should be obvious to everyone that we can no longer afford to continue pigging out on fossil fuels, particularly when sustainable energy alternatives are close at hand. And taxpayers can no longer afford to give billions in tax breaks and federal subsidies to an energy industry wallowing in record profits. We applaud the Obama administration’s efforts to cut corporate welfare for the oil and gas giants and support initiatives that will foster sustainable alternatives.
Closer to home, we can’t afford to lose sight of the plight of our family farmers. Small farmers are victimized by rigged markets that benefit middlemen at their expense, and smothered by the onerous regulations that should really apply only to huge factory farms. Debt-ridden, aging, and unable to retire, many farmers have been forced to lease their land for fracking. If we want to preserve our precious environment, we have to find a way to help our local farmers prosper.
Public awareness is the key to our success! Please pass this message on to your friends.