Josh Fox, director of the Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland, which exposed hydrofracking water contamination in Pennsylvania, speaks before an anti-hydrofracking rally in the Legislative Office Building. Photo by Anthony Mancini.
January 30, 2012Calling on state legislators to support a ban on hydraulic fracturing, or "hydrofracking," in New York state, a coalition of environmentalists were joined by both celebrities and concerned lawmakers during a rally in the Capitol Jan. 23.
More than 600 New Yorkers from all regions of the state protested the process, which involves pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release natural gas deposits.
While proponents tout hydofracking's potential to create jobs and help the economy, opponents are trying to raise awareness of its potential to harm the environment.
Josh Fox, director of the Academy Award-nominated documentary Gasland, which exposed water contamination by natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania and in western states, spoke at the event.
"The environmental costs of hydrofracking greatly outweigh its economic benefits," said Fox, who supports a ban on the process. "It is very important for New York state to lead the nation in opposition to fracking."
A coalition of anti-hydrofracking organizations gathered in the State Capitol on Jan. 23 to call on state legislators to support a ban on the natural gas drilling process, among them actress Debra Winger, center. Photo by Anthony Mancini.
Last summer, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed lifting the state's moratorium on hydrofracking. In his recent State of the State Address, however, the governor neglected to mention the process or the current review of proposed regulations by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Fox believes Cuomo will "do the right thing" on this issue.
"The governor is an intelligent man and I have confidence in him," said Fox. "He must know that for Ed Rendell, the former Pennsylvania governor, and Tom Corbett, the current governor, hydrofracking will be their landmarks."
Debra Winger, a three-time Academy Award-nominated actress, reflected on how being a child of the 1960s inspired her to join the anti-fracking movement.
"I would always see these commercials for clean burning gas and I thought the blue flame the gas would create was so beautiful," said Winger, who starred in films such as An Officer and a Gentleman and Terms of Endearment. "Now, however, I see all of the dangers behind that blue flame."
Sen. Greg Ball, R-Patterson, who recently proposed legislation to impose a one-year moratorium on hydrofracking, called on members of both the Occupy movement and the Tea Party to hold the natural gas industry accountable. He also offered optimistic praise to the governor.
In an effort to bring awareness to the potential of hydrofracking water contamination, protestors marched to the governor’s Capitol office to hand-deliver bags of bread, baked using local water. Photo by Anthony Mancini.
"I believe in the genuine goodness of our governor," said Ball. "If he went to Pennsylvania and saw firsthand all of the negative impacts of hydrofracking, I believe he'd be on board with us."
Sen. Tony Avella, D-Queens, told protestors to respond "no fracking way" to anyone who suggests hydrofracking would be a good thing.
"If there's anyone in this room who supports fracking, shame on you," said Avella. "We don't want to hear our legislators talk about compromise or regulations, we want a ban."
Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, D-Lindenhurst, suggested hydrofracking would impose new costs on state taxpayers, but struck an optimistic note on what he sees as evolving sentiment among state legislators on the issue.
"Assembly members are seriously and honestly taking a look at this issue," said Sweeney. "I've had colleagues tell me they're having a change of heart on hydrofracking."
Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, addressed New Yorkers skeptical over why New York City residents should care about natural gas drilling that occurs upstate. They should care, Rosenthal suggested, because all New York residents care about the safety of drinking water.
"Standing here today, I feel an earthquake, but not the kind they're feeling in Ohio, Wyoming or Arkansas," said Rosenthal, referring to reports of seismic activity in states where hydrofracking is implemented. "We are going to create the biggest firestorm you've ever seen if hydrofracking goes forward in New York state."
David Braun, co-founder of United for Action, an anti-fracking activist group, showered praise on the governor for achieving marriage equality in New York state, but offered tough words for Cuomo's involvement in the hydrofracking debate.
"The governor has done really well in the polls and I do kind of like him a little," said Braun. "But people dying is far more important than me being able to get married."
Braun suggested the hydrofracking debate could prove a drag on the governor's potential 2016 presidential run.
"If hydrofracking goes forward, he will have to run as 'the guy who poisoned the people of New York state'," said Braun. "We have to hold Cuomo accountable on this."
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, suggested that at the heart of the hydrofracking debate is the issue of whether democracy is alive and well in New York state.
"The only time I've seen the energy interests beat back is when the people organize and come together," said Esposito. "When we have achieved victory in this state, we will have peace of mind."
Eric Weltman, senior organizer of Food and Water Watch, a consumer rights group, said hydrofracking is beyond the state's capacity to regulate.
"The Cuomo administration has exaggerated the number of jobs and economic growth that would come from fracking and downplayed its costs to the environment," said Weltman. "There are safer alternatives to natural gas, but no alternatives to drinking water."
Among the signs sported by the hundreds of protestors were ones which read "Keep Our Food Clean," "Fracking Is Insane," "They Said It Was Safe to Drill in the Gulf," "Don't Frack with Our Water," "Fracking Means Death," "Renewable Energy Now," "Fight Back, No Frack" and "Do Not Frack New York for China."
At the event's conclusion, protesters, chanting "break bread, not shale," marched to the governor's second-floor Capitol office to hand-deliver bags of locally produced breads. Baked using local water, protestors suggested hydrofracking, and its potential for water contamination, could pose a threat to the edibility of such bread.