New York Bans Fracking

New York Bans Fracking
We did it! You were part of it!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A visit to Gasland: The sights, sounds, and smells of Fracking

Please join us on Sunday, Sept. 21 for the People's Climate March! We will be gathering on West 58th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues, 10:00-11:00 a.m. and joining the march from there. Look for the Pentacle Signs and find more information, here! 

Hydraulic Fracturing aka "Fracking." It's the kind of thing you may disagree with in philosophy and routinely oppose. The data sounds pretty bleak, after all. You may have read the articles, you probably saw the Gasland films or heard about the faucets lit afire. You've possibly signed petitions and you'll probably sign more. But it's not until you stand on a crumbling road, watching fumes rise from platforms carved into the formerly bucolic piece of country that you may realize that "fighting the good fight" had been more like playing a half-hearted game of checkers with your back to the real battle. 

PEC-NYC traveled to Pennsylvania on Saturday, Sept. 6 with Food and Water Watch to visit fracking sites. This is an extraordinarily beautiful part of the country: lush deciduous forest sweeping down rolling hillsides and trickling creeks. It's home to a plethora of organic, family-owned.

Beautiful Susquehana County, PA. Photo courtesy of George Courtney.
But as we drew closer to the sites, an eerie sense of disaster crept in. There were no birds or squirrels in this area of country. There were barely any insects. As PEC-NYC member Reagan Porter said: "Never before have chemical fumes made me instantly nauseous and disoriented while their source lay 75 yards away from me. I was in the woods deep in Pennsylvania. I heard no birds. I didn't notice at first because I live in Brooklyn - but even Brooklyn has goddamn birds." 

Gas excavation in Susquehana County, PA. Photo by George Courtney

Anti-fracking activists visit site in Liberty Township, Susquehanna County, PA. To the left, a water tanker used in fracking. Fracking requires thousands of gallons of water per day, which is taken from local steams and rivers, infused with silica sand and chemicals and blasted into shale rock to release natural gas. We saw nearly 200 trucks that day, and it was a slow day (being a Saturday). The trucks damage the local roads, requiring their repair several times a year. This is paid for with PA state tax money--not by the fracking companies, themselves. Photo by Erik McGregor.
You smell fracking before you even get close enough to see it...and it smells bad. Imagine cutting off the top of a gallon of super-glue, wrapping it in a garbage bag, then sticking your head in and inhaling all the fumes. That's what hit us when we stepped off the bus.

Fracking stinks.

In roughly ten minutes time, people complained of headaches. I felt dizzy. Was it fatigue? Or was the air really that bad?  If we were feeling icky already, how were the workers faring? The video below was taken by George Courtney. The sounds and fumes continue 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  

Tour guide and local resident Vera Scroggins. She is pointing at the gas extraction site above, positioned directly in front of the resident's home, directly behind her. The local residents are fully exposed to fumes from extraction for months. Photo courtesy of Erik McGregor.

Overview of one site. The blue dots along the bottom are water tanks. Fracking sites need millions of gallons of water to function--even while whole sections of the nation experience extreme drought. Photo by Erik McGregor.
Our guide, Vera Scroggins, a resident of Susquehanna County who is directly impacted by fracking in her area, mentioned that the companies bring in workers from out of state. The jobs promised by the industry are given to workers brought-in from elsewhere (we saw many cars with Oklahoma plates), who work 12 hours shifts at a time, at high risk for serious injury or illness. They are housed on the sites, so they are not paying rent to community landlords or purchasing items in the local stores. The community receives roughly only 10% of the job opportunities supplied by these companies and the workers' presence contributes little-to-nothing to the local economy.

One of many shuttered businesses in Susquehanna County. The gas money is NOT going back into the local community. Photo by George Courtney.

It's like aliens came in and sucked all the life out of the land, leaving a few humans behind with water that looks like mucus--water that is also laced with uranium. Nowhere in these areas can you find signs of "economic prosperity" or "all the jobs" promised by this practice. You can find plenty of people cooking with donated Aquafine water because their wells have gone bad. You can also find lots of cancer cases among them. But all that economic promise must have been swept up and taken with the aliens because it sure can't be found on the earth it fracked. 

We are Witches. We could help! We went there ready to uncross and heal, but it felt as effective as giving Magickal CPR to a corpse. "It's too late for us," the land Spirits seemed to say. 

The guy in the photo below is Ray Kemble--a former gas company employee and a resident of Dimock, PA. You may remember him from Gasland the Movie as one of the people who was able to light his running faucet on fire. A fracking well went into the property directly across the road from him in 2009. His water has been contaminated ever since. He, like many other residents, depends on private donations of bottled water as his home supplies nothing potable.  When one member of our group asked for a sample of his water, Ray said that the law dictates that he cannot not give away any water from his home as he possesses the knowledge that it contains uranium, and knowingly handing off uranium is a serious crime--even if that uranium comes from your own faucet. The gas companies have denied the testing results of the water and continues to insist that it is safe to drink.   

Dimock, PA resident Ray Kemble holding samples of his property's well water. The one on the right was taken from his well in January, 2014.  Photo courtesy of Erik McGregor.

The black thing in the background is a leaking natural gas well. This is directly across from Ray Kemble's home. As you can see, the air is so polluted with gas that Ray needs to confine his cigar smoking  to his own property. Crossing the road with a lit cigar poses the threat of explosion. Photo by Erik Mc Gregor.
Tammy Manning with her granddaughter. Her well has been contaminated since 2011 when gas companies began fracking on a nearby property. Their home is roughly 7,000 feet away from a fracking well. Cabot oil and gas denies any responsibility for the contamination, only claiming responsibility for contamination within 2,500 feet of the drill site. Photo by Erik McGregor.

The Manning family's water buffalo. This was provided by the gas company when their well was contaminated. Later, the company denied responsibility for the contamination and tried to seize it. Activists built the above container and the company did not find it worth their time to remove the casing. The Manning family still cannot use their well water and relies on bottled-water donations from groups such as Food and Water Watch and rainwater collection. Photo by George Courtney

Water donations from the Fracking Reality Tour. Photo by Erik McGregor.

Water truck heading to fracking site within residential area. Photo by Erik McGregor

 As we rode through the countryside, we saw dairy cows housed on the very same property as these fracking wells. The same animals producing milk, cheese, eggs, and meat are breathing gas-filled air, drinking chemical-laden water, and eating grass exposed to the same. Vera pointed out that not only are these farms likely to lose their organic labels soon due to contamination, but that within a few years it may be impossible to produce or sell farm products from this region.

Farm in Dimock Township sharing land with a fracking well. Photo by Erik Mc Gregor
When fracking comes to town, lives are ruined. The water is spoiled, the people and animals are sickened. Worse, no one can leave. If fracking opens up in a community, the houses lose their value, completely. No one can sell and move to a new place even if they wanted to. Some people get by on settlements from the gas companies, but these settlements come with "gag orders." If someone has been disaffected by the company and accepts the settlement, they can never talk about what they have experienced. The people we spoke with have bravely refused the offers, getting by on faith and donations.

A few key talking points if your pro-fracking friends and relatives still don't agree:

* It does NOT benefit economy. Look at the pictures above--towns are not thriving. Workers are imported and kept close to the site. The money coming to these communities comes via leasing of willing landowners and settlements to the disaffected. All then must deal with the health effects, contaminated water, and homes that will never sell. The only people thriving are those selling the gas.
* It does NOT create energy independence. This gas is being processed to be sold overseas to India and China where it can be marked up 5x its worth in the US. This gas is not for us. It is meant to be sold, as evidenced by the push for liquified natural gas export stations petitioning for construction along USA coastlines.
* It CANNOT be done safely. This technology is barely a decade old and as you can see above, there are tremendous problems with it. In 2005, the Bush/Cheney energy bill exempted fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act. 

There were too many wells to keep up with. As we rode along, Vera pointed them out as quickly as she could, but she couldn't finish explaining the damage to one property and the strange cancers that had befallen the residents before we passed another one with an equally upsetting story.

Members of PEC-NYC at Ray Kemble's home. From left: Me (Courtney Weber), George Courtney, Wendi McDermott, Reagan Porter, Gary Suto. Photo courtesy of Reagan Porter.
NAKED HONESTY HERE. For a long time, I've secretly hoped that I have been wrong about fracking. Its scope seemed too wide and the stakes too high--a Goliath just too big to slay, this time. I want to look back at the age of 80 and say, "Well! It wasn't as bad as I thought. All that time wasted at rallies." But in the middle of Gasland, my heart sank. There was no hope for being wrong. The Goliath who wrung the life from the land and the people was even bigger, greedier, and meaner than my Manhattan activist self would have ever imagined during her dutiful petition gatherings at NYC Sabbats. I hated being in Gasland. I wanted to go home. I wanted to get away from the stinking air and the silent forests. I wanted Mofongo take-out, my cats, and my shower. But in the comfort of my clean shower, the fresh water didn't wash away the memories on my brain. The people I met and instantly loved were still tucked in the landscape I couldn't wait to shake. They weren't enjoying a hot shower. They were bathing from the water we left them and living with the reality that they are standing on a silent clock, ticking toward the day they get sick from the cancers or other illnesses their neighbors faced.  This is a reality they know, accept and talk about freely. I had the luxury of going home, but home would not be the same.

Before I went to sleep and dreamed of a pounding on doors and screaming of a rotten-egg smell (the smell of a gas leak), I thought of the end of The Two Towers (Yes, I read the books, but quoting from the movie right now!) when Merry says to Pippin: "The fires of Isengard will spread, and the forest of Tuckborough and Buckland will burn. And all that was once great and good in this world will be gone. There won't *be* a Shire, Pippin." There really was no going home.

New York is my Shire--OUR Shire. We all have our own Shires and whether you call it Goliath, or Sauron, or Cabot Oil and Gas, if we pretend the battle against fracking is "over there," by the time it's "over here" it's already too late. We may come across as bleeding-hearted-liberal-faux-hippies and maybe we are. But this blog and these photos are not validation of political opinion. They illustrate immediate, first-hand experience. We smelled, touched, and felt the effects of fracking. It is awful. It must be stopped.

Sept. 6 "Fracking Reality Tour." Photo courtesy of Erik McGregor

If you are a New York State Resident, contact Governor Cuomo. Go on record saying: "BAN FRACKING NOW." New York is in a precarious place. The world is watching our space. If we frack, other undecided states will frack, too. If we ban, more bans will follow. When the Marriage Equality bill passed, other states nearly immediately followed suit. We can't just hide in our Big Apple Shire. We must keep it out--forever.

If you are not sure if your state will allow fracking, do a web search and if it's looking like your state might frack, join the movement to stop it. 

Thank you for reading, listening, and sharing.

Courtney Weber
HPS, Novices of the Old Ways--NY
Organizer, PEC-NYC


  1. Thank you for sharing this. An educational yet painful experience. Horrible.

  2. Remember, Dimmock PA is only 32 miles south of my home outside of Binghamton, NY. Its neighbor against neighbor up here about whether to frack or not, with the personal opinion that those in favor of fracking are dumbasses.

  3. I see people in pa burning trash and polluting the air all the time I see them filling up there cars with gas to go protest there fracking sites that don't make any sense to me. Don't seem to complain about the money there making off the fracking either the gas land movie was a bunch of propaganda the guy that made that had no idea what he was talking about so stop jumping to conclusions that you don't understand.

  4. The Wild and Wacky World of Fractivist Lies

    Just when you think you’ve heard the worst of fractivist lies, new ones come out of groups that themselves seem to arise from the Rocky Picture Horror Show.