WATCH: Fracking could ruin Ireland warn experts by Aljazeera, November 21, 2012
Why the War Against Fracking May Be Our Most Crucial Conflict by Ellen Cantarow, November 19, 2012, alternet
There’s a war going on that you know nothing about between a coalition of great powers and a small insurgent movement. It’s a secret war being waged in the shadows while you go about your everyday life. In the end, this conflict may matter more than those in Iraq and Afghanistan ever did. And yet it’s taking place far from newspaper front pages and with hardly a notice on the nightly news. Nor is it being fought in Yemen or Pakistan or Somalia, but in small hamlets in upstate New York. There, a loose network of activists is waging a guerrilla campaign not with improvised explosive devices or rocket-propelled grenades, but with zoning ordinances and petitions. The weaponry may be humdrum, but the stakes couldn’t be higher. Ultimately, the fate of the planet may hang in the balance.
In January, I chronicled  upstate New York’s homegrown resistance to high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, an extreme-energy technology that extracts methane (“natural gas”) from the Earth’s deepest regions. Since then, local opposition has continued to face off against the energy industry and state government in a way that may set the tone for the rest of the country in the decades ahead. In small hamlets and tiny towns you’ve never heard of, grassroots activists are making a stand in what could be the beginning of a final showdown for Earth’s future.
Frack Fight 2012
New York isn’t just another state. Its largest city is the world’s financial capital. Six of its former governors have gone on to the presidency and Governor Andrew Cuomo seems to have his sights set on a run for the White House, possibly in 2016. It also has a history of movements, from abolition and women’s suffrage in the nineteenth century to Occupy in the twenty-first. Its environmental campaigns have included the watershed  Storm King Mountain case, in which activists defeated Con Edison’s plan to carve a giant facility into the face of that Hudson River landmark. The decision established the right of anyone to litigate on behalf of the environment. Today, that activist legacy is evident in a grassroots insurgency in upstate New York, a struggle by ordinary Americans to protect what remains of their democracy and the Earth’s fragile environment from giant corporations intent on wrecking both.
The process begins by propelling one to nine million gallons of sand-and-chemical-laced water at hyperbaric bomb-like pressures a mile or more beneath Earth’s surface. Most of that fluid stays underground. Of the remainder, next to nothing is ever again available for irrigation or drinking. A recent report  by the independent, nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded that fracking poses serious risks to health and the environment.
Anthony Ingraffea  of Cornell University’s Department of Engineering, co-author of a study that established the global warming footprint of the industry, calls this new form of fracking an unparalleled danger to the environment and human health. “There’s much more land clearing, much more devastation of forests and fields. . . thousands of miles of pipelines. . . many compressor stations [that] require burning enormous quantities of diesel. . . [emitting] hydrocarbons into the atmosphere.” He adds that it’s a case of “the health of many versus the wealth of a few.” Against that wealth stands a movement of the 99% — farmers, physicists, journalists, teachers, librarians, innkeepers, brewery owners, and engineers. “In Middlefield we’re nothing special,” says Kelly Branigan, a realtor who last year founded a group called Middlefield Neighbors. “We’re just regular people who got together and learned, and reached in our pockets to go to work on this. It’s inspiring, it’s awesome, and it’s America — its own little revolution.”
Last year, Middlefield became one of New York’s first towns to use the humblest of tools, zoning ordinances, to beat back fracking. Previously, that had seemed like an impossible task for ordinary people. In 1981, the state had exempted gas corporations from New York’s constitutionally guaranteed home rule under which town ordinances trump state law. In 2011, however, Ithaca-based lawyers Helen and David Slottje overturned that gas-cozy law by establishing that, while the state regulates industry, towns can use their zoning powers to keep it out. Since then, a cascade of bans and moratoria — more than 140 in all — have protected towns all over New York from high-volume frack drilling.
This Is What Democracy Looks Like
Caroline, a small hamlet in Tompkins County (population 3,282), is the second town in the state to get 100% of its electricity through wind power and one of the most recent to pass a fracking ban. Its residents typify the grassroots resistance of upstate New York. “I’m very skeptical that multinational corporations have the best interests of communities at heart,” Don Barber, Caroline’s Supervisor, told me recently. “The federal government sold [Americans] out when they exempted fracking from the Clean Water and Air Acts,” he added. “Federal and state governments are not advocating for the civil society. There’s only one level left. That’s the local government, and it puts a tremendous load on our shoulders.” … “It used to be somewhere else, mountaintop removal in West Virginia, deep-sea drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, tar sands in Alberta, Canada. But now…it’s right here under our feet in upstate New York. The line is drawn here. We can’t keep escaping the fossil fuel industry. You can’t move other places, you just have to dig in where you are.”
Two years of pre-ban work in Caroline included an election that replaced pro-drilling members of the town board with fracking opponents, public education forums, and a six-month petition drive. “We knocked on every single door two or three times,” recalls Bill Podulka, a retired physicist who co-founded the town’s resistance organization, ROUSE (Residents Opposed to Unsafe Shale Gas Extraction). “Many people were opposed to gas-drilling but were afraid to speak out, not realizing that the folks concerned were a silent majority.” In the end, 71% of those approached signed the petition, which requested a ban. On September 11th, a final debate between drilling opponents and proponents took place, after which Barber called for the vote. A ban was overwhelmingly endorsed. “For the first time,” he told the crowd gathered in Caroline’s white clapboard town hall, “I will be voting to change the balance of rights between individuals and civil society. This is because of the impacts of fracking on health and the environment. And the majority of our citizens have voted to pass the ban.” The board then ruled 4 to 1 in favor.
… Last year, the DEC received  over 80,000 written comments on the latest draft of its guidelines for the industry, the 1,500-page “SGEIS” (which stands for “Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement”). Drilling opponents outnumbered proponents 10 to 1. The deluge was a record in the agency’s history.
This is What Autocracy Looks Like
In May 2012, Dewey Decker and his board passed a resolution pledging that the town of Sanford would take no action against fracking, while awaiting the decision of the DEC. There was no prior notice. Citizens were left to read about it in their local papers. “You wake up the next morning and say, ‘What happened?’” commented Doug Vitarious, a retired Sanford elementary school teacher. In June, a headline in the Deposit Courier, a Sanford paper, read “Local Officials in Eligible Communities Approve Pro-Drilling Resolutions.” Accompanying the piece was a map of towns that had passed such resolutions. The subscript under the map read : “Joint Landowners Coalition of N.Y.” The JLCNY is the state’s grassroots gas industry ally, whose stated mission is to “foster… the common interest… as it pertains to natural gas development.” Decker represents the organization in Sanford. During the summer, Vitarious and other citizens asked their town board where the resolution had originated, but were met with silence. They requested that the board rescind the resolution and conduct a referendum. Decker refused. By the end of August, 43 towns in the region had passed resolutions modeled on one appearing at the JLCNY website. It stipulates that at the local level “no moratorium on hydraulic fracturing will be put in place before the state of New York has made it’s [sic] decision.” Under New York’s Freedom of Information Law, Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy and the National Resources Defense Council obtained records from Sanford and two other towns about how they achieved their objectives. The records, says Bruce Ferguson of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, “detail contacts between gas industry operatives and officials.”
Two months before superstorm Sandy swamped parts of the state, Sue Rapp, a psychotherapist from the town of Vestal, told me that flooding worries her as much as anything else about fracking. Upper New York State suffered flooding in 2010 and 2011. And then came Sandy. Floods turn millions of gallons of fracking waste-water for which there is no safe storage into streams of poisons that wash into waterways.
“All eyes are on New York,” says Chris Burger, a former Broome County legislator and one of a small group who persuaded New York’s last governor, David Paterson, to pass the state’s moratorium on fracking. “This is the biggest environmental issue New York has ever faced [and not just] New York, the nation, and the world. If it’s going to be stopped, it will be stopped here.” [Emphasis added]