US Fracking tour – Day 5 – Pittsburgh and Ithica

Thursday 10th

Morning – Pittsburgh
Professor Tony Ingraffea

Professor Tony Ingraffea

Meeting after meeting after meeting! We started at 9am with a breakfast meeting, then continued with a Republican Congressman till 11.30, when we boarded a bus that took us on a six hour journey to Ithaca, New York State. I don’t know whether it was my imagination or not, but I felt a load lifted off my spirits when we cross the border out of Pennsylvania and into New York! It was not that we saw hundreds of people impacted by fracking, it was the knowledge of what was being done to this beautiful countryside and rural population and what lay ahead for them. Fracking has only started in Pennsylvania – they have fracked 24,000 wells so far but the intention is to frack over 80,000! So the worst is to come and everyone will be impacted. “We are building up a legacy of waste”, said one of the speakers. I think it is worse – they are building up a legacy of harms to the people, to the environment and to the earth.

Important points made by speakers during the day:

  • The industry has built up myths that are now the majority belief, e.g. shale gas is a clean fuel; shale gas can be developed safely.
  • Mythologies – no distinction between fact and fiction
  • Shale gas contribution to the economy and to energy security has been greatly exaggerated.
  •  The shale gas industry is constructing a permanent infrastructure – network of pipelines, compressors, refineries, trains, boats etc. that will be around for two generations
  • They therefore will fight against any technology that could interfere with continuation of shale gas extraction, e.g. renewable energies
  • When they come into an area, they destroy existing economies, e.g. tourism, farming. The dairy industry is weakening in shale gas areas.
  • Hospitalisations increase in areas close to fracking. Medical conditions such as rashes, nosebleeds and asthma appear. Children are worst affected.

Important discourse: Can the industry be regulated safely? There is NO evidence that it can. Hypothetically, it can be improved but not to the extent that we can have confidence that it will cause no harms. Why?

  1. It is a unique industry with unique technologies that we are only learning to use.
  2. It is dispersed through the landscape – pads, pipelines, compressors, with risk of emissions, spillages, accidents.
  3. It extracts stuff that has been in the ground for 100 million years. Huge volumes of wastewater is then dispersed throughout the environment without acceptable means of disposal.

At the end of the day, the only recourse by citizens is through the courts – expensive but the last stand of independent judgement.

Evening – Ithaca

We reached Ithaca – a delightful university town when many of the fracking scientific heroes live – and there they were! Tony Ingraffea, Bob Howarth, Helen Slottje. What a privilege to spend an evening with them and share a lovely Asian meal. I don’t mind admitting that I was awe-struck! And that doesn’t happen too often.

Representatives of the indigenous peoples from the Onondaga Nation were present with Dr Steingraber from the Concerned Health Professionals of New York, several legislators, our fellow campaigner Renee who visited us last Easter with Julia Walsh.  Between courses, we had presentations from all these people, starting off with a prayer from the Onondaga representative, presentations from Tony Ingraffea and Bob Howarth (who showed how shale gas wells leak almost as a matter of course and shale gas is a major contributer to greenhouse gas emissions.

Bob

Professor Bob Howarth with Congresswoman Barbara Lifton

This was heavy stuff but the atmosphere lightened as the focus turned to the successful campaign against fracking in New York.

Renee

Renee

Renee gave an overview of the campaign, the legislators told their story, everyone was so happy that they had succeeded. Important points:

  • The campaign took seven years start to finish
  • Initially, the film Gasland and the word “Frack” were important
  • Important components in the campaign were involvement by small communities to bring in local bans, involvement by celebrities, strategies of direct action, advocacy and shadowing of Cuomo by the campaigners.
  • Most important of all was emphasis on Public Health.

Everyone present were still in a celebratory mood. A few said that it was a miracle that the ban was imposed!  Great credit was given to Governor Cuomo for his wisdom and courage in signing off a prohibition on fracking in New York State.

Believe it or not – at 10.00pm we had to leave the company and get on the bus again! We had to do another 3-hour drive to Albany. At 1.15am, we arrived and once again, fell into bed.

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