There were environmentalists, professors, local and county officials, public health experts and citizens of all ages who are completely opposed to the DEC’s consideration of leasing state forests to energy companies that want to utilize hydraulic fracturing as a method to extract natural gas from shale.
This method, being utilized widely by energy corporations in Pennsylvania and Colorado, requires a process whereby the corporation drills vertically down several thousand feet. Locally, that would mean cracking into the Marcellus Shale formation and drilling horizontally for more than a mile through the shale layer.
Since the gas is trapped in fragmented pockets of the shale, the companies utilize a fluid -- a mix of water and various chemicals to extract it.
This has been an ongoing battle that reached a boiling point when the DEC released its draft strategic management plan for state forest management in 2010, which prompted a positive SEQRA declaration and resulted in public hearings throughout the state.
A portion of that draft plan included the consideration of leasing state forest lands to energy companies for hydrofracking, which requires millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals -- the exact cocktail which they are not required to make public -- in an effort to “frack” open pores in the shale rock, add sand to hold the open the rock and allow gas to seep out.
Opponents noted that in Pennsylvania and Colorado there have been many documented cases where the water-and-chemical mix that is shot into the earth has then seeped into groundwater, polluting waterways, aquifers and wells.
At the DEC, protestors gathered to talk, educate one another, sing, put on skits, but most of all to send a message to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the DEC commissioner that not only do they not want “regulated fracking,” they want “no fracking.”
The event was co-sponsored by the Climate Action Coalition of New Paltz and the Sustainable Living Collective (SLC), a group of SUNY New Paltz students who are active in the sustainable living movement and practices.
Nicholas Depalma, president of Students for Freshwater at SUNY New Paltz, as well as a member of the SLC, noted that this was the culmination of SLC’s “Sustainable Action Week,” where they held numerous events, all leading up to this particular action and protest and call to the governor.
“I think this demonstration shows a real unity of multiple generations who all are against having their water poisoned,” he said.
He pointed to several failed fracking expeditions in Pennsylvania, which have caused death, intense pollution, chemical spills, explosions and residents suffering from polluted water.
“They were promised in Pennsylvania that the fracking would be ‘regulated,’ but it’s not, which has led to so many catastrophes and even when it is ‘regulated’ the ramifications to our drinking water -- the most valuable resource we have -- is so disastrous.”
Depalma was quick to point out that the DEC office in New Paltz “is not who we’re protesting.”
“They have no regulatory power when it comes to hydrofracking,” Depalma explained. “We’re at this location symbolically to send our message to the New York State DEC.”
There were constructed mini-wind turbines stationed all around the rally to show the protestor’s support of alternative energies as opposed to fossil fuels. There were signs that read: “Once you crack you can’t go back,” and “Fracked land is no man’s land.”
Dan Guenther, of the Climate Action Coalition, has publicly shown the documentary film “Gasland” about the plight of Pennsylvania and hydrofracking to many community groups throughout the region. He’s also led discussions on what the people of New York can do to take action to prevent the same thing happening here. Guenther looked out at the crowd and said that he was so pleased to “see an even split of students and community members.”
“That’s great because these students have worked so hard to plan these events and I think it is critical that they understand that taking action is a right, a powerful right that is way too under utilized in this country,” he said.
Former New Paltz town councilwoman and active environmentalist Marion Dubois was there lending her presence and voice to the rally.
“I’m here because I’m against fracking. I’m also about to be a great-grandmother and all of our children and great-grandchildren need clean water for survival. How dare any government allow their citizens’ water to be poisoned, the earth to be poisoned just for the enormous profits of a very few? Enough is enough.”
Melanie Glenn, who helped start the Sustainable Living Club on campus, said that she was happy with the turnout, despite knowing it was such a busy day and weekend for people.
“We planned many events that would help to educate ourselves and the community on sustainable living practices and environmental issues that are critical and then, once armed with more information and knowledge we wanted to ‘act.’ Friday is our day of ‘action,’ and I’m so pleased to see so many community members joined with us and am thankful to the Climate Action Coalition for helping us and guiding us to make this happen and to be able to take direct action.”
Brian Obach, who teaches at SUNY New Paltz, called the governor’s office as he has done at another anti-fracking rally and let the crowd send a “no fracking” message loud and clear to the state’s highest leader.
Several officials were present, including Village Trustee Shari Osborn and County Legislator Susan Zimet, to lend their support to the issue. The Town Board actually passed a resolution, joining many other municipalities in New York and around the country, stating their opposition to hydrofracking.
The Village Board was asked at their last meeting to consider passing a similar resolution.
To learn more or to get involved there are several websites with information, petition, articles and contact info that were recommended by Depalma, including: www.frackaction.com, www.waterdefense.org, www.shaleshock.org and www.catskillmountainkeeper.org.