NEW YORK--Colleen Clappas had a simple answer when asked why she came to protest fracking on June 25 in Manhattan's Foley Square: "I drink water."
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process of natural gas extraction that includes the pumping of millions of gallons of pressurized, highly toxic water, sand and chemicals into shale rock to release the gas trapped inside.
Fracking poisons the air, the soil and especially the water, so many of the 1,000 demonstrators wore blue. "Drinking water is a public good," said protester Brian Kleve. "We've got to protect it from creeps, hustlers...and scumbags."
Much of New York City's water supply comes from the Marcellus shale formation. As a result of the ancient rock's insulation, the city's water is some of the cleanest in the country, at least at its source. The Big Apple's infrastructure might be crumbling, firehouses closing and its streets full of litter, but any laid-off sanitation worker can drink for free, the kind of water yuppies in Beverly Hills pay top dollar for.
There is currently a moratorium on all new fracking leases in New York state, but it expires July 1, and energy companies are crying "drill, baby, drill."
A study of Marcellus and Utica shale drilling sights in Pennsylvania and New York conducted by Duke University researchers and published this spring by the National Academy of Sciences found clear links between hydraulic fracturing and methane and ethane contamination of groundwater.
Residents who live near these drilling sites didn't need scientists to tell them their water was contaminated. All they had to do was light a match under their faucet or over the bubbles gurgling in their streams and watch the flames fly.
An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study published last year found arsenic, copper, vanadium and adamantanes, which can cause cancer, kidney failure, anemia and fertility problems, in water from 11 out of 39 wells tested near natural gas drilling sites in Wyoming.
Last year, the EPA planned to raise concerns to state lawmakers over the effect of untreated, radioactive wastewater from the fracking process being discharged upstream from drinking water treatment plants. But instead, according to records obtained by the New York Times, the EPA ignored its own data showing the threat that fracking poses to public safety.
EPA officials have also limited the scope of studies. The Times reported, "Asked why the letter about hydrofracking in the New York City watershed had been revised, an agency scientist involved in writing it offered a one-word explanation: 'politics.'"
The scientist might have added "profits." Aside from being a revolving door between the government and the corporations it's supposed to regulate, the agency also comes under pressure from lawmakers who receive campaign donations from the energy industry.
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PROPONENTS OF fracking say it will create jobs. But recent reports show that energy companies have been exaggerating the amount of gas under the U.S. and its profitability, leading to fears that the so-called "gas boom" could go the way of the "housing boom." While drilling operations will create jobs, including many that entail transporting and disposing of toxic substances, many others will be eliminated, particularly in agriculture.
Jessica Reynolds' livelihood will be in jeopardy. She works at a greenmarket in the city for a duck farm. If the fowl go foul, there'll be none to sell. But that's not why she came to the protest. "Personally, I'm a vegan," she said. "I'm concerned about the animals."
Rotting carcasses of fish, birds, cattle and deer follow fracking sites wherever they may go. Recently, wastewater from a Marcellus drilling site along the Pennsylvania/West Virginia border was linked to the mass death of 10,000 fish.
The demonstrators at Foley, chanting "No fracking way!" stood on the ground of what was long ago Collect Pond, one of the few fresh water sources for Manhattan and the largest body of water on the island. After severe contamination that led to epidemics of typhus and cholera, the pond was drained in 1811.
With a forest of signs at their backs, speakers addressed the assembled from where Collect Pond once rested, on steps leading to the Triumph of the Human Spirit, a 50-foot fountain in the shape of a Malian antelope headdress, commemorating the slaves who were buried near spoiled pond. One placard summed up the fracking process: "Frack Plan: 1. Take water out of river; 2. Add toxic chemicals; 3. Put water back in river."
Reverend Billy with the Church of Earthaluiah hollered into a manhole while the Stop Shopping Choir warmed up behind him. He called to those locked up in the Tombs of the Manhattan Corrections Facility beneath our feet. They, The Reverend explained, are “the real energy” that must be excavated, not shale gas, which it ought to be criminal to extract. “You hear me down there?” he shouted. “We're gonna stop fracking!”
The Choir began clapping and singing, "Our ecosystem is not for sale, our aquifer is not for sale, our drinking water is not for sale...burning with a justice ghost."
Filmmaker Josh Fox was also on hand. His documentary Gasland illuminates the problems hydrofracking has wrought in communities in Wyoming, Colorado, Texas and Pennsylvania--not just inflammable water, but cases of cancer and brain damage.
"I've been to rallies all across the country, millions are with you," Fox told the crowd. "But if we want to win, we'll have to look at the history of social movements in America...We have to learn from the civil right's movement and the women's suffrage movement...The green movement is next."
Fox called for building a mass movement and for civil disobediences to protect the water, air and soil. "If they start drilling, we'll stand in front of those trucks and blockade the drill sites," Fox said, adding, "If Cuomo wants us to go to jail, we'll go to jail."
One of the rally's final speakers was Lauren Chan, a New York City high school student. "How will we survive if the water that travels through our city contains dangerous chemicals? I wouldn't want to drink flammable water, would you?"
There's a mural on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn that reads, "Water is the life of NYC." Pristine shale water runs through our faucets that we depend on to cook, bath and drink. If our water supply is poisoned by fracking, New York is dead.