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Can a Small Community Throw a Monkey Wrench into the Global Fracking Machine?

15-WT-frack-SQ

The history of liberty is a history of resistance—

Woodrow Wilson

While New Yorkers anxiously await Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision on whether to lift the state’s de facto moratorium on high-volume slick-water horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” Woodstock, the iconic counter-culture capital of the world, has become the first municipality to call for legislation to make fracking a Class C felony.

Woodstock’s action is just one small town’s response to a rapidly escalating global war over fracking. To both sides in this war—environmentalists and citizens who oppose fracking on the one side and the gas industry and its supporters on the other—the upcoming ruling to allow or ban fracking in New York is being viewed as (you should pardon the expression) a watershed event.

Decisions made in Albany and in towns like Woodstock will likely determine whether fracking goes full steam ahead everywhere, or whether its momentum can be slowed or even stopped. New York, after all, has a rich history of environmental activism and democratic movements, and anti-fracking activism has spread like wildfire over the last couple of years. New York is also home to abundant supplies of clean freshwater, an essential resource that is in crisis globally and that could be endangered by the practice.

Fracking? Please Explain

On January 15, the Woodstock Town Board unanimously passed a resolution to petition New York State to introduce New York Public Law #1—which would impose stiff penalties for fracking and related activities. Before taking this step, the Woodstock Town Board took two others: banning fracking within its borders and outlawing the use of frackwaste fluid, some of which is known as “brine” (because of its heavy salt content), on its roads. This material is used as a de-icing agent in the winter and for dust control on dirt roads in the summer. Despite the fact that brine from oil and gas wells (whether fracked or not) is laden with heavy metals, toxic chemicals, and radioactivity, since 2008 the Department of Environmental Conservation has granted approval for it to be spread on roads in the western part of the state.

New York Public Law #1 was conceived and drafted in May 2011 by the Sovereign People’s Action Network (SPAN) and FrackBusters NY—two citizen anti-fracking groups spearheaded by the late Richard Grossman, a legal historian, democracy activist, and founder of a movement to ban corporate personhood and strip corporations of their special legal privileges.

Fracking is used to extract “unconventional” sources of natural gas or oil, like those found in shale formations. Unlike the large pools of gas that make up “conventional” sources, the gas in shale is typically found in separate tiny bubbles throughout the rock formation. In order to get it, drillers create a “permeable reservoir” by shattering the rock formation that contains the gas.

This involves drilling a deep well straight down into the shale, then turning the well at roughly 90 degrees so that it runs horizontally another 10,000 feet or so. The well is fracked when a mixture of water, chemicals, and sand is pumped in at explosive pressure to force open cracks in the rock, enabling the gas to flow back up to the wellhead.

Since these wells travel under aquifers, lakes, rivers, and streams, much concern has been raised about the potential to contaminate groundwater and other freshwater supplies. Fracking also requires a massive industrial operation, which creates significant air pollution, noise, and truck traffic. Large amounts of various toxic compounds, plus nitrous oxide, a key component of ozone, spew from diesel generators, drill rigs, trucks, condensate tanks, and other equipment, as well as the flaring of wells.

In communities across the country where fracking has been underway for more than a decade, the process has left a trail of poisoned people, serious water pollution, including radioactive contamination of drinking water supplies, and potential threats to the value of people’s homes and land in drilling areas. The gas industry has denied that its actions are responsible for these problems.

Meanwhile, serious questions have been raised about the integrity and economic viability of the entire enterprise. Officials within the United States Energy Information Administration, a division of the Energy Department, have suggested that estimates of gas reserves may have been purposely inflated, a concern graphically illustrated in hundreds of industry emails and internal documents—some of them dripping with contempt.

According to one industry insider, “The word in the world of independents is that the shale plays are just giant Ponzi schemes and the economics just do not work.” Another equated the hype around shale gas as a “charade” and said companies involved were “having an Enron moment,” adding that “they want to bend light to hide the truth.”

On another environmental front, evidence is mounting that a vast expansion of shale gas extraction will dramatically increase global warming. That’s because the emissions of methane—a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide—leaking out of the ground in drilling fields are much greater than previously known. Considering that fracking is becoming a global phenomenon, the methane leakage could be a significant new source of greenhouse gas emissions.

SPAN, FrackBusters NY, and the Woodstock officials who passed the resolution calling for criminalizing the activity believe that existing law and regulation won’t protect New Yorkers from the irreversible damage fracking would inevitably cause. On its website, SPAN says: “The traditional way to prevent irreparable harm is by enacting laws criminalizing such behavior and by imposing deterrent-level penalties.”

A Law with Real Teeth

As such, the law is comprehensive in scope and mandates prison sentences of between five and 20 years along with minimum fines of $1 million per violation. Activities deemed felonies under the law include:

- extracting oil and/or gas by fracking in New York State;
- mapping, exploring and locating oil and/or gas deposits with the intent to frack;
- importing frack-related materials into the state, including fracking wastewater and drill cuttings;
- withdrawing any water in the state for the purpose of fracking anywhere; and
- owning, possessing or transporting fracking paraphernalia anywhere in the state.

The law also goes after corporations—and their boards and top management—found to violate it. New York corporations would have their corporate charter revoked, while those chartered elsewhere would have their authority to do business in the state rescinded. Such corporations could also have any assets they had in New York seized to be sold at auction, with the proceeds going to the state treasury.

Nor does Public Law #1 exclude government personnel. It would also make any person working for any level of government in New York, whether as an employee or as an elected or appointed official, liable not only for compensatory and punitive damages, but also legal expenses if that person was found in violation.

“The oil and gas mining laws of New York, as presently written, disempower citizens and communities while treating corporate fracking and fracking-related activities as legal, despite the extreme and irreversible harm this industrial process causes,” FrackBusters NY said in a statement from November 2011, when the group first unveiled the draft law.

The law is intended to move the debate over fracking out of the regulatory arena, whose often glacially paced and always expensive procedures are designed only to mitigate rather than prevent harm. Instead, the law would require officials to stop the damage before it occurs.

In October 2011, a month before he died, Grossman gave an interview to Russell Mokhiber, editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter, in which he said that he and his co-activists had no illusions about the New York State Legislature: “But theoretically at least, that is where laws are made. And that’s where sovereign people go to instruct our representatives. Our approach to our legislators is: we wrote this law—now you pass it.”

Grossman also said that anti-fracking activists understood that this wouldn’t happen “until we build a formidable statewide movement that is not only talking about fracking as a destructive technology, but also about illegitimate rule by a very small corporate class.”

Jobs vs. Environment: A Familiar “Choice”

Anti-drilling sentiment is rising in New York. Currently, 43 municipalities have enacted bans, 110 have passed moratoriums, and there are movements for either outright bans or moratoria in another 91 municipalities.

Not everyone is opposed to fracking, however. Like many areas in the country, the upstate economy is struggling with high rates of poverty and unemployment, issues that loom large for many people living in areas above the shale. Forty-four municipalities have passed resolutions supporting fracking, though opponents in some of those communities are trying to repeal pro-fracking resolutions and enact either a ban or moratorium.

The public’s concern about shale gas extraction is much more nuanced than the common but crude “jobs versus environment” framing. According to a survey of 600 residents in upstate New York by Cornell University’s Survey Research Unit in January 2011, 46 percent said the need for jobs and economic issues was the most important concern facing their community. And 70 percent of those living in counties with urban area populations of between 10,000 and 50,000 (“micropolitan” counties) said creating local jobs was the most important goal of their local government, while 59 percent of respondents in more sparsely populated areas agreed.

At the same time, environmental preservation also scored high among upstaters. In response to the question, “Given the current economic challenges facing New York State, do you believe state and local governments should be committed to protecting long-term environmental values?”, 90 percent said yes. When specifically asked about natural gas drilling and whether the risks to water quality outweighed the benefits of the revenues, or vice versa, 65 percent said the risks outweigh the benefits, 24 percent said the revenues were more important, and 11 percent said they didn’t’ know enough about gas drilling to answer.

Regulatory Business-as-Usual—But with a Twist

Anti-fracking groups delivered 204,000 letters on the New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s proposed regulations on January 11, 2013, the last day of a 30-day public comment period that included the Christmas holidays.

The DEC took most of 2012 to read the 66,000 comments generated during an earlier public comment period. Yet the agency appears to be pushing hard to meet a February 27, 2013 deadline to approve the proposed regulations that would pave the way for the issuing of drilling permits. If the fracking regulations are not finalized by that date, the proposed ruleswould lapse, in which case the entire process would start from scratch, probably delaying any decision to allow fracking in the state for years.

Governor Cuomo and the DEC have come under intense criticism for rushing the process. The most recent comment period under the state’s environmental review—quite possibly the last—asked for public input on regulations the agency put out before its environmental review was finished.

There has been no comprehensive study of fracking’s health impacts by independent experts, a glaring omission in the state’s environmental review, which citizens and environmentalists have repeatedly called on the governor and DEC to remedy. Instead, the Cuomo administration decided to have the state Department of Health conduct a health review that veteran Albany Times Union columnist Fred LeBrun describes as “opaque.”

“To this day,” LeBrun continues, “the public has not a clue as to what the health department is actually looking at, what’s being reviewed, whether any recommendations for change will be made. That’s all being kept secret by the administration. And apart from the names of the three respected public health experts from outside the state vetting the health department’s work, we know nothing of what they are being asked to vet, whether they, too, can make any recommendations, [or] what the limits of their oversight might be.”

The rule-making on fracking “has been from hell, an abomination,” LeBrun said. “The public has been deceived, misdirected and kept utterly in the dark over where the state was heading concerning the most important environmental issue of this generation.”

Frackbusters NY says New York’s oil and gas mining laws, as currently written, “disempower citizens and communities while treating corporate fracking and fracking-related activities as legal, despite the extreme and irreversible harm this industrial process causes.” It further charges that the New York DEC “functions as a pro-corporate agency, enabling hazardous extraction processes that benefit the few against the interests of local communities and the vast majority of citizens.”

The DEC’s behavior in its environmental review of fracking seems to bear out the group’s allegation. Under existing state law, DEC must publish its environmental review, a document known as the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, or SGEIS, at least ten days before it releases its final decision. The SGEIS will contain the reasoning behind the DEC’s decisions on fracking as well as whether or not it will be permitted in New York.

If the state is to meet its February 27 deadline to finalize its regulations and lift the de facto moratorium on fracking, the SGEIS would have to be published by February 13.

But whether Cuomo approves fracking or not, this high-stakes fight will undoubtedly continue.

To the deep-pocketed and politically powerful fossil fuel industry—which has run out of large, easily exploited reservoirs of fossil fuels—fracking is the only way to get at much of the vast supplies of what is left. Global warming or not, the fossil fuel sector is aggressively securing as much of those sources as they can throughout the world.

To those concerned about the immediate harm to their health, the environment, and their communities, as well as the continued existence of our species and other life forms we share the planet with, stopping fracking is a question of life and death.

If Cuomo does approve fracking in New York, thousands have pledged to continue the resistance with acts of civil disobedience. Can ordinary citizens prevail, Occupy Style, when the money piles are high, and the stakes even higher? Stay tuned.

 

 

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GRAPHIC: http://www.woodstockx.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/15-WT-frack-SQ.jpg JAMES–see which looks


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  • Paul Roden

    Right on Woodstock, NY! Fracking should be a crime and outlawed once and forever everywhere on the planet. We don’t need it for our energy needs. Read the Nov. 2009 issue of Scientific American. We can power the planet without fossil fuel or nuclear energy with existing technology by 2030. The Germans are going to be at 80% renewable energy by 2016 and shut down their nuclear energy plants by 2022. If the Germans can do it, we can do it.

    • lessthantolerant

      Dream on rodent!

  • Heather from Ohio

    Your framing of economic benefit vs. enviro. harm is bad framing and a false dichotomy. We in SE Ohio know that there are no benefits other than profit to extractors and short-term cash to landowners, whose longterm costs will likely far exceed the initial influx of cash when they can’t insure, mortgage, or sell their land. Sustainable businesses, including tourism and agriculture lose, taxpayers lose when health care costs go up for uninsured sick workers and residents, infrastructure costs go up, and people flee the newly industrialized countryside. The climate is at increasing risk of total catastrophe from the methane leakage alone, not to mention the increased CO2 from transport, production, and burning. Benefits??! I don’t see any.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lijlij.briggy Lij Lij Briggy

      Yes, I totally agree and have said this mantra for months. You and i and anyone else who has educated themselves of the consequences of fracking MUST educate others.

  • Keith & Joyce Loomis

    HYDROFRACKING

    The problem is no one trusts private corporations to do the
    right things when it comes to protecting the environment or human life or our
    right to know so we can protect ourselves.
    Nor do we trust our elected officials since they can be bought and
    controlled through campaign contributions and lobbying. It has become very hard to judge and
    understand the rules and regulations needed to control this process since
    knowledge of the process is secret. We
    do not know: how to nondestructively test and monitor the wells, what to do
    with the waste water and if it can be recycled without the flowback water
    becoming more toxic with each reuse, how to capture the released methane, what
    to do with the released radon gas, what chemicals are involved and if they are
    being stored in a safe and secure manner. Recently, we have learned that the process can
    cause low intensity earthquakes this has been documented as occurring in
    England, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Ohio, Texas and perhaps other areas. The U. S. Geological Survey has reported a
    sudden rise in the rate of 3.0 magnitude and greater earthquakes in areas where
    hydraulic fracturing of shale layers and deep hydro-waste storage wells
    occur. EPA has issued a finding that the
    chemicals used in the hydrofracking process; as well as, methane can leach or
    leak or otherwise find a way into water supplies, wells, aquifers and
    streams. The United States Center for Disease Control
    and Prevention and doctors across the nation have called for a moratorium on
    fracking pending further research into the effects of injecting hydrocarbons
    such as: petroleum distillates, naphthalene, formaldehyde, benzyl choride, volatile
    organic compounds and glycol ethers deep into the earth. Of the
    353 chemicals presumed ingredients, 60% can harm the brain and nervous system,
    40% are endocrine disrupters and 30% are both suspected carcinogens and
    developmental toxicants. Those who have
    studies the fracking issue, seen and measured its effects have identified six major
    impacts: the industrialization of rural areas; clearing and fragmenting
    woodland, wetlands and grasslands; introduction of urban air quality and
    pollution; evacuation of communities due to accidents and lack of safety; the
    disappearance of fresh water due to the huge volumes needed; and in the end the
    gas will run out but the environmental and ecological damage will remain. New York State and other states should issue
    no further permits until these questions can be answered and the Hudson Valley,
    Delaware River and the Finger Lake Region should always be out of bounds as well
    as other unique regions of our nation.
    Finally, the governor should issue an executive order, and the
    legislature pass a law allowing each level of government (village, town, city
    or county) the right and legal authority to ban hydrofracking within their jurisdiction.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lijlij.briggy Lij Lij Briggy

      Very well stated , you should put this whole letter on Cuomo’s facebook. He needs to hear some science instead of industry’s rhetoric.

  • TheUSisdead

    “This material is used as a de-icing agent in the winter and for dust control on dirt roads in the summer.” Holy crap! Spraying frackwaste brine on the roads? Does Times Beach Missouri mean anything to anyone? Frackers won’t disclose what they are pumping into the wells. Why would anyone allow them to pump this unknown soup made of waste from their wells on the highways? That is absolutely insane! Thank you Woodstock!

    • http://www.facebook.com/lijlij.briggy Lij Lij Briggy

      “Why would anyone allow them to pump this unknown soup made of waste from their wells on the highways?” Because the gas companies don’t know what to do with the toxic chemicals that come up with the waste water but have discovered that the “brine” can de ice the roads. The gas companies are giving the stuff away to budget strapped towns who see this as a money saving way to take care of the roads.

  • Cm

    The only way to stop corporate thugs is to kidnap them and starve them and then carve “thief” into their foreheads just before they are dumped out of a moving vehicle.

    America is a country without justice.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lijlij.briggy Lij Lij Briggy

      Take the corporate “thugs” and make them live where the people in Dimock and in N. Dakota are living with the hell from these wells. See if they like living with toxic chemicals, no water and a house that could explode if you aren’t careful.

      • Jennyfurz

        That’s the problem…. These people who are all for it REFUSE to live anywhere near these areas that will be / are being fracked because they KNOW what it will do / is already doing to the surrounding area. These people don’t give a damn how these kinds of practices affect the good people of America- they think they are above everyone else and because of that they shouldn’t have to live with the horrible side effects that are being inflicted to our countryside.

    • ej3

      We should make them drink that fracked water, that will take care of them nicely.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/mwaldow Marianne Waldow

    Thanks to Karen Charman for providing an overall review of fracking and its dangers while reporting on the Woodstock call to criminalize fracking. Transparency is absolutely necessary. New Yorkers need Governor Cuomo and the DEC to consider the concerns of the citizens and the environment of the state over the profits of the fossil fuel industry.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lijlij.briggy Lij Lij Briggy

    Hooray for Woodstock, now if we can only get the rest of the state onboard. Thank you .

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Christopher-Richardson/100000374200557 Christopher Richardson

    You go Woodestock! As soon as you turn off your lights, stop heating your homes and start walking everywhere you go. Try arguing from facts vs. emotion – fewer folks will treat you like nut cases.

    • lessthantolerant

      Hope for an extremely cold winter! Maybe the nutcases will freeze to death!

    • ej3

      Nothing like an ad hominem attack which has no basis in anything real or constructive. You shame no one but yourself with your ridiculing and inability to state anything credible.

  • sunmusing

    Well, here we are…big Oil…the Koch boys, have succeeded in fracking above the headwaters of a major tributary to the Colorado River…it is too late now to worry about what poisons are being injected into our water tables…I just hope the poisons don’t hurt folks down stream…but there you have it…Big Oil gets it’s way…and fuck the rest of us…we don’t get any of the benefits of cheap gas and oil, but we get the clean up and suffer the consequences of the the Koch’s greed..they are trying to destroy our government so they can poison us without any government interference…I would like the Koch boys choke on their own poison..

  • Peter Jennings

    The word is out worldwide on this cowboy practice. First I’ve hear of them pouring it over the roads though. Usually they just leave it in giant pools for the wildlife to find and the locals to live with.

    Where are the gas trolls on this site? maybe there is just too much intellect on the site and in the comments that they decided not to bother. Shame, I’m all for troll abuse.

    Show the way and others will follow.

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  • JAKarpova

    On January 15th, the Town of Woodstock passed a non-binding resolution in support of a NY State law to criminalize hydraulic fracturing and all activities related to it. While this was a most
    commendable effort, it has no concrete component. It asked the State legislature to criminalize hydrofracking. It did not criminalize it
    within the Town of Woodstock. Today, at the end of March, even after the State Legislature seems to have responded, and at least passed legislation to extend the hydrofracking moratorium, we still may be only weeks away from seeing permits issued.

    Woodstock has already taken steps to protect its residents from this toxic process. It has passed a ban on hydrofracking based on
    its right, under NY State home rule law, to prevent any process that conflicts with its Comprehensive Plan for how land within the town may be used.

    Such local zoning laws must be registered with the County and then sent to the NY Secretary of State. This is because many entities outside of the town have an interest in the use of
    land: developers, mining companies, water extraction companies, factories, etc. They have a legal right to come into any NY town and establish themselves. Towns often cannot prevent them.

    At the January 15th Town Board meeting, I represented Rochester Defense Against Fracking and advocated for an additional ban based on the civil rights of individuals to clean water, clean air, and to retain the value of their property. This is a Community Bill of
    Rights Ordinance (CBRO). It does not frame hydrofracking as a land-use activity. It states that it is not legitimate anywhere. Just as burglary is not framed as all right in one part of town but ok somewhere else, a CBRO states that hydrofracking is so poisonous to the water supply, health, and the land, that it is prohibited. Towns use CBROs against hydrofracking to protect the civil rights of their residents. These basic civil rights are not granted by governments. Governments are created to protect them. Such an ordinance does not stand or fall based on international, federal,
    state or county law.

    They do not have to be sent to the County and registered with NY
    State. They don’t depend on Home Rule. They stand on their merits in each locality. They make a declaration that hydrofracking is illegal in that town — not a violation of land use, but illegal.

    In effect, they criminalize it.

    This is very different from a town asking the state legislature or state senate or the governor to ban fracking in the state. It actually sets aside a concrete area where it is criminalized.

    Think of the issue of slavery. It was once legitimate to ask, “Is slavery a property rights issue or is it a civil rights issue? Do municipalities ban it under property laws, and say, ‘It’s ok somewhere else but not here.’ ” Or do they declare it inherently harmful and invoke police powers to prevent slave ownership in their jurisdiction? Social change comes about when people decide
    that there are some activities so damaging that even though they have been legalized, they need to be redefined. Slavery was redefined as criminal, town by town, and then state by state.

    At the Woodstock Town Board meeting, the Board felt that once a land-use ban was in place the town no longer had the right to pass a CBRO. These two very different kinds of laws do not preclude each other. Having the power to control zoning does not
    strip the residents of a municipality of the right to be protected from criminal activity. It does not strip their town of their police powers to protect them.

    We in Rochester Defense Against Fracking maintain that there is nothing more effective than working for change in one’s own town. Our towns have the right to protect us. We call on Woodstock and the towns of Ulster County to use this right and create a foundation for a statewide criminalization ban on hydrofracking by creating such bans right where they are.
    Judith Karpova
    Rochester Defense Against Fracking – MidHudson Valley, NY
    dahlia@wildblue.net

    http://www.rdaf.org

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  • Jennyfurz

    What is so scary about this is that these companies might be able to get some communities on board for fracking, all in the name of creating new jobs. Creating new jobs is all fine and well, but if somehow for some hellish reason it is approved we will have many more serious problems than just a high unemployment rate. Gas fracking is highly counter-productive from what I can tell. We’ll have a very sick population on top of all our other problems.

  • lessthantolerant

    Idiots!