Sunday, September 16, 2012

If push comes to shove, anti-frackers pledge not to budge

If fracking comes to New York, opposition groups are pledging to take the fight beyond traditional political channels and employ tactics used in the 1960s Civil Right’s movement. This would include passive “civil disobedience” such as human block-aides and sit-ins, to call attention to their cause and show their resolve to fight for it.

There is bitterness and vitriol on both sides of the debate over the risks and merits of high volume hydraulic fracturing – a controversial method of extracting gas from rock that has enabled a new era of on-shore drilling. Proponents see on shore drilling as a positive step to increase domestic energy supplies and national independence while phasing out coal. Critics see it as a reckless and unregulated corporate land grab that comes at the risk of the environment and public health. And there is plenty of visible protesting, street theater, and campaigning that illustrate the deepening entrenchment of positions over shale gas in New York state. Too much, in fact, for one journalist to cover, much less assign relevance to.

So why am I writing about a particular series of events that took place in upstate New York yesterday? Signers – 5,000 to date -- of the “Pledge of Resistance” represent a commitment that seems to extend beyond an ill-defined crowd that can be written off as reactionaries, hellions, ideologues, and band-wagon riders. Alliances within the group cut across demographics, with heavy representation from baby-boomers, some with a history in the Civil Rights movement that defined 1960s-era activism. As with pro-drilling groups, anti-fracking campaigners are represented by credentialed leadership including politicians, academics, and professionals with family and jobs. And they appear ready to push their comfort zone.

Three protesters were arrested earlier this month for blocking the entrance to an Inergy LLC facility near Watkins Glen, New York. Inergy plans to build a $40 million storage and transfer station for natural gas and liquid petroleum in underground salt caverns on the western side of Seneca Lake. The project is part of a build-out of infrastructure that would increase New York’s role in shale gas development. Those arrested included Gary Judson, a 72-year-old retired Methodist Minister.

The pledge of resistance is purportedly signed by people willing to go down that same path. They include political figures such as Binghamton Matt Ryan, and non-political figures such as Sue Rapp, a psychotherapist with a private practice in Vestal, New York. Rapp, a first-time demonstration speaker, considers herself an “accidental activist,” compelled to protest because of the prospects of shale gas development in her hometown, which sits over a lucrative part of the Marcellus Shale
A principal in the upstate New York movement is biologist and author Sandra Steingraber, distinguished scholar in residence at Ithaca College, and a mother of two children, ages 13 and 11. At rallies yesterday in Horseheads, Binghamton, and the Onondaga Nation, Steingraber promised more resistance to come. “I will be in the streets with you, and if the day comes that I will be a better parent in jail than out of jail, then I will be that parent,” she told a crowd of cheering followers at a rally in Otsiningo Park. “We stand ready to fill the streets in peaceful non-violent protests.”

A threat, of course, is different from action. And if push comes to shove, it remains to be seen whether the signatories will live up to their commitment in show-stopping numbers, or whether the effort will become an underwhelming side show in the ongoing national debate.

And so the story continues.


  1. Thanks Tom for covering the Pledge to Resist (and linking to the video). This seems to have been missed by other reporters who covered this event. -- BH

  2. and thanks for info re: the anti-fracking pledge by people planning to do civil disobedience if needed. Strength in numbers, also necessary support if the times comes. I know you aren't taking sides and I appreciate all the reporting.