September 26, 2010

Mark Ruffalo Speaks Against Fracking

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Actor Mark Ruffalo gave a few opinions as an upstate New York resident on the use of hydrofracking on the Marcellus Shale. Sunday evening, actor Mark Ruffalo and State Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-125th), joined by about 100 Cornellians, discussed the dangers of hydrofracking. Ruffalo is known for starring in motion pictures such as 13 Going on 30 and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Hydrofracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a method of extracting natural gas from rock formations by blasting water and chemicals at the well heads to force gas to the surface. Many energy companies advocated for hydrofracking into the Marcellus Shale, a sediment rock unit which covers much of New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Environmentalists and academics are worried about the injected solution, which may have numerous carcinogens, and could potentially seep and contaminate water supplies.

Lifton worked on the moratorium bill that is currently in place, banning all drilling until May 15.

“We have a lot of doubts about whether that [hydrofracking] can be done safely without hurting our precious water,” Lifton said.

Ruffalo currently lives in Calicoon, N.Y., an area that is already affected by hydrofracking. He has been a serious activist on the issue for about two and a half years, he said.

“I’m an actor. My voice — fairly, or unfairly — reaches a little bit farther,” Ruffalo said.

According to Ruffalo, tests done on local groundwater and wells show that every community near a hydrofracking site has its watersource contaminated, forcing people to import drinking water. He also claimed that hydrofracking sites are also associated with huge rises in childhood asthma and nasal disorders.

While there is no conclusive evidence to support these claims, the Environmental Protection Agency is currently conducting a broad study of hydrofracking, which is due in 2012.

It can take up to 200 trucks to frack one well, which further exacerbates the pollution problem, he said. “They come through every two minutes and they just trash the place,” Ruffalo said.

According to Ruffalo, scientists who are trying to study the full extent of the environmental impacts are hindered by companies who withhold information about the chemical compounds used for hydrofracking.

“[The scientists] say ‘we can’t study it if we don’t know what’s in it.’ Well, if it’s safe, then why don’t [the companies] tell us what’s in it?” Ruffalo said.

“This could be one of the great American environmental disasters,” he continued.

Additionally, Ruffalo rejected claims that allowing hydrofracking will foster economic development.  He noted that most of the work crews are from out of state, so the only money that comes in will go to hotels and bars.

“When you say economic development, what do you mean? Fifty more Starbucks? 10 more Walmarts? 100 more McDonalds?” Ruffalo said.

While environmental groups such as the National Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club once celebrated the merits of natural gas, such as being cleaner burning than coal, they have changed their position over the past few months, swayed by the devastation that can be caused in its extraction, Ruffalo said. The websites of both organizations express concerns about the impacts of hydrofracking.

“They thought natural gas was like God had farted,” Ruffalo said of environmental groups’ former enthusiasm for the energy source.

The issue is further complicated by the economic woes of upstate farmers, according to Ruffalo.  When natural gas companies offer the farmers about $500,000 to lease their land, he said, that sum is hard to reject. Many of them choose to believe that hydrofracking can be done safely, Ruffalo said.

“All of the farmers say ‘I want clean water too.’… I’m friends with farmers, they’re my neighbors,” Ruffalo said.

According to Lifton, there is a lot of ignorance and apathy at the state legislature. However, when she showed Gasland, a Sundance award-winning movie, at a N.Y. State Assembly session, it “lit a fire under people.”

People are coming up from other states and begging New York to take the lead, Lifton said.

“This is the front line. No state has ever done what we’re trying to do.  What we’re doing is totally impossible,” Ruffalo said.  “The world is looking at us.”

Lifton and Ruffalo encouraged students to get informed and involved.

“If you’re losing faith — losing hope — then you’re not doing enough. It’s you. That’s democracy,” Ruffalo said. “I ask you to use your one great power — your ability to vote,” Ruffalo said.

Terry Moynihan, the president of the Cornell Democrats was pleased with the turnout.  “It’s important to get out and vote,” he said.  “Environmental issues can’t be ignored, like they have been in the past.”

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Original Author: Laura Shepard