The southern tier of New York faces an imminent challenge: the legalization of hydraulic fracking in five of its counties. The area, which borders Pennsylvania and includes the counties west of the Catskills, sits on top of the Marcellus shale, a deposit of untapped natural gas that can be processed and turned into fuel. Currently no high-volume, thick water horizontal hydraulic facking is allowed in New York State, but all that can change if Gov. Andrew Cuomo accepts new regulations from the Department of Environmental Conservation, and allows drilling in the southern tier.
But the so-called “sacrificial counties” are not without allies — they have received support from activists statewide. As Julia Fiore ’13, biology and society, said, “No people should be considered sacrifices for dirty energy.” She, along with 15 members of Cornell’s KyotoNOW and the Green Umbrella state youth network, joined with over 1,500 people from across the state in Albany at an event called “Don’t Frack New York” to deliver to Gov. Cuomo a pledge signed by 3,000 citizens stating that they do not welcome hydofracking in New York State, and that they are willing to take any nonviolent measure within their conscience to prevent it. They planned to show the governor that the “first to be fracked” will not go without a fight.
A Weekend of Training
The events of Don’t Frack New York began on Saturday, August 25th with a weekend of training sessions moderated by members of KyotoNOW! and other grassroots organizations from across the state. During the first day’s session, the activists learned about their spectrum of allies and opponents in the fracking fight. Kelsey Erickson ’13, natural resources, described the spectrum as consisting of active allies, passive allies, passive opponents and active opponents.
“Active allies,” she said, “are the people who work alongside you, go to rallies with you, and help you out.” She also explained that passive allies are in support of the anti-fracking movement, but are not necessarily actively participating in the protests. She said that the passive opponents are people who don’t actively speak out against you, but at the same time are not willing to work with you. Finally, active opponents, like the natural gas companies, are willing to fight against you. The training methods gave the activists lessons on how to shift people from being neutral supporters and passive allies into active participants joined in the fight.
“There’s a lot of people who are maybe on the fence and think they don’t know too much about fracking,” K.C. Alvey ’12, natural resources, said. “But we’re mostly focused on helping to shift those people into taking action and feeling inspired that there is this movement out here and that we have the potential to make a difference.”
Alvery noted that the goal of the trainings was to prepare people to continue organizing against fracking throughout this fall. She said that the sessions gave people the facts they needed to explain to their town board why fracking, even in neighboring counties, could devastate their local economy and damage their water supply.
The Sunday session provided the group with non-violent direct action training, which covered how to organize peaceful protests and rallies. Members from diverse grassroots organizations offered tips on how to increase local public engagement in the fight against fracking by using examples from their own experiences in their towns.
The over 1,500 activists began their march on a sunny Monday morning outside of an amphitheater located by the Hudson River. The beautiful scene with the speakers lined along the Hudson reminded the marchers of the natural sites throughout New York State that they were marching to protect from fossil fuel extraction. From there, they marched to the steps of the Department of Environmental Conservation office building and alluded to the influence of industry within the government because the Chesapeake Energy Company is located just across the street.
Speakers included Josh Fox, director of the documentary Gasland, and Bill McKibben, creator of the grassroots organization 350.org. The rally continued to march down the streets and then stopped in West Capitol Park outside of the governor’s office where Sandra Steingraber, a biologist and environmental activist, led the crowd, fists in air, in reciting their pledge of resistance – a moment which Alvery remarked was reminiscent of a civil rights leader from the 1960s.
Dominc Frongillo ’08, Councilor and Deputy Town Supervisor Town of Caroline, New York, said that “seeing over 1,000 people with their firsts in the air saying ‘I commit to resisting fracking’ sends chills down one’s spines when you realize the passion that people have about protecting their communities. Gov. Cuomo has no idea what he’s stepping into.”
Chris Dennis ‘14, international agriculture and rural development, who was video recording the event, had a similar reaction.
“I saw how so many people were so passionate about this issue because they felt that their livelihoods and their health and family were being threatened by this industry,” he said.
With that energy, a delegation of 20 people delivered the over 3,000 signatures, collected in only three weeks to a representative of Gov. Cuomo.
The pledge, Fiore said, is not a passive petition — it is saying that we have thousands of people willing to put their bodies on the lines to stop fracking from happening. It is now up to Gov. Cuomo if he’s going to listen to those 3,000 signatures, or instead allow fracking in the southern tier.
Interconnected Environmental Action
Frongillo said that with Don’t Frack New York “we’re seeing a historic grassroots movement that’s uniting everyday New Yorkers in wanting to protect their state.” Don’t Frack New York helps mark the end of the “Summer of Solidarity,” which saw dozens of grassroots actions nationwide such as the Tar Sands action blockade in Texas, the coal export action in Montana, and the ramps campaign in West Virgina. Alvey said that, with the Summer of Solidarity, people are recognizing that these fights for clean energy are interconnected.
“The industry and the government seem like really big opponents,” Fiore said. “But we just have to remember as citizens we have a lot of power in our collective action and that if we work together we can make our voices heard even against the millions of dollars that they are putting up against us.”