No Fracking Way: A Report from New York's Rally

Natural Gas has become a flash point in the nation because enormous swaths of the country hold huge underground deposits of the fossil fuel. Mountainfilm in Telluride Festival Director David Holbrooke recently attended a rally in Albany, New York, to encourage New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo to maintain a moratorium on fracking in the state. This is David Holbrooke’s report from the event.

“I’m an environmentalist — that’s why I am for natural gas,” said my stepfather as I picked up my mother to go to Albany for a demonstration opposing drilling in New York state. I replied, “I don’t have time to talk about it now, but I look forward to the conversation.”

It seems like lots of people are talking about natural gas these days, including my stepfather who I love and respect. A loud and boisterous contingent met in Albany last Wednesday outside the hall where Governor Cuomo was giving his State of the State address. Mostly, it was a coalition of farmers, young people and families who were trying to get Cuomo to keep the current fracking moratorium in place.

There were also singers — Pete Seeger and Natalie Merchant — as well as Sandra Steingraber, the biologist and poet who was a festival guest and featured in the film Living Downstream at Mountainfilm 2012. Steingraber has been a leader on this subject, especially in New York. A few years back, she wrote in Orion that she believed natural gas was worse for this country than coal because fracking — the primary way to release the natural gas from shale — turns otherwise healthy, productive soil into a wasteland with a ruined watershed.

She also believes that the claims of its positive effect on global warming are specious:

Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are reporting an alarming 9 percent leakage rate from drilling and fracking operations. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas — way more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping heat. Methane leaks like that, if typical, would mean shale gas is a worse enemy to our climate than coal.

She wrote an open letter asking people to come to the Albany rally:

The shale army is an accident-prone, carcinogen-dependent industry with no boundaries. The shale army seeks to use our land as its beachhead, our water as its battering ram, and our air as its receptacle for its toxic fumes. The Marcellus Shale is our Greensboro lunch counter. It’s our Stonewall riot. It’s our Seneca Falls Convention. This is our moment, and it hangs in the balance.

Her letter moved me to change my plans and attend the rally. When I asked my mother if she wanted to come, she said, “I don’t know much about natural gas, but it sounds like fun.” So off we trundled to Albany. There were about 1,500 people chanting “Ban fracking now!” and a handful of counter-protesters who carried signs with that read “Gas = Jobs” and recited “Drill, baby, drill.” After a while, the pro-fracking forces disappeared en masse to go to their paid lunch (they were also paid for appearing), and it was left to us to fight the good fight in New York state.

Of course, this isn’t just a New York issue; it’s a national one that is particularly resonant in Colorado. Drilling already exists in much of Colorado, but there is also serious resistance, as exemplified by the town of Longmont that voted to ban fracking altogether.

What seems clear is that activists from the two states are starting to work together, learning from each other. Today, I got an email from Steingraber. She was forwarding a press release from ProtectOurColorado.org titled “Large Coalition Comes Together to Oppose Fracking in Colorado.” At the top of the email was a personal note: “Lots of synergy possible … Sandra.”

I certainly believe in the synergy, which is why Steingraber will return to Mountainfilm in Telluride this year to talk about natural gas and what can be done to stop its spread. I will also recommend that my step-father, an ardent fan of the festival, attend her presentation.

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