10 Things I Hate About You, Fracking
The fracking fight has already come to my doorstep in a cozy corner of northwest Philadelphia. During election time, there were as many “No Fracking” signs as there were Obama campaign signs, which means a a lot. I even know an anti-fracktivist who walks her dogs on my street. Confronting fracking as a real issue at home in my community and then going away to Stop the Frack Attack in Dallas:, has made me realize just how huge, widespread, tough and inspiring this fight is. Check out 10 things I learned from spending 3 days at our conference:
1. Families are facing nearly impossible decisions: So many stories from families featured lines like, "then the drillers came," "Mom, they stole our stars," (in the words of one child) or most literally, "then the red flags came." Many families are facing the terrifying choice of moving or fighting, in some cases after living on their land for decades. Some families were forced to move more than once before they finally decided to stay and fight. These families' attitude was, "It'll be you eventually, so stand with us now."
2. Fracking is everywhere: On a brief tour of Dish, TX, I saw playgrounds in the shadows of fracking wells. They tower over houses of worship like the "Cowboy Church" and sprout from pastures where the iconic Texas beef cattle graze. And after just a few hours, our eyes were burning.
3. It is worse than you thought: In addition to all the effects on our water supply and the potential for earthquakes, fracking emits constant noise, up to 140 decibals inside some facilities. It was audible on our tour. Prolonged side effects of noise exposure include low birth weight babies, brain damage, heart attacks, and sexual dysfunction.
4. For all that destruction, the people who lease their land are not getting rich: At least in Dallas, royalty claims have been in the hundreds of dollars and many have not been paid in years. Contrary to gas district claims, "no one is getting to be Jed Clampett here" as the avuncular Marc McCord, a local river guide put it. Or in Deborah Rogers words', "The boom isn't to sell gas, it's to sell gas companies."
5. Fracktivists are an amazing and diverse bunch: Because of the intimate character of fracking's impacts, whole families are thrust into the movement together. Parents and children attended together, and the level care and nurturing was something I haven't experienced organizing outside of my own Jewish community. Iconic cowboy hat-wearing Wyomingians, breast cancers survivors, environmental justice activists, and people who could have been the "skinny kids from Columbia" that Yoko Ono was expecting were part of the group.
6. The movement has a lot of potential: Looking around at this assemblage, I kept thinking, "we could win this thing!" The good news about the whole enterprise being a Wall St. bubble is that bubbles pop. And contrary to the rhetoric around "energy independence," the only way to make a profit is by exporting the gas. So stopping as many pipelines as we can is key, and the presence of Tar Sands Blockaders at the conference was particularly heartening. Equally so was that Fort Collins, CO finalized their fracking ban today even though their own governor threatened to sue them for doing so.
7. The sky, and sun, are the limit for solar: The keynote speaker, Danny Kennedy of Sungevity, faced critical questions from audience members suspicious of "green capitalism." But it was hard not to be swayed by his candid talk about the need for oversight of toxins in solar panels, while making a believable case that solar can defeat dirty energy like cell phones defeated landlines. And just as the fall of Netscape didn't mean the end of the internet, nor does Solyndra say anything at all about solar's prospects.
8. Frackers REALLY hate Tony Ingraffea, the professor who has done work on the methane emissions of fracking. He brought out the trolls on Twitter for the first time at the very end of the conference. While his research shows that fracking indeed reduces CO2 emissions, it increases methane, which is up to 105 times worse. Would you rather die by gunshot or by flamethrower? Bonus: he also came up with a great response to the idea methane sequestering. "We've got a great system for UN-sequestering methane, it's called fracking." Sequesters: never a good idea.
9. Everybody's getting paid. In Congress, at least. Per our friend David Turnbull from Oil Change International, there is no member of Congress who has pledged to avoid fossil fuel money, though progressive champions like Bernie Sanders get as little as $8750. Much work to do!
10. An earthquake is an amazing way to protest. I've gone to a lot of protests in my day, but I have never experienced anything as literally and emotionally moving as the "earthquake-in" we did at the Texas Railroad Commission (apparently due to the lack of mass transit, they have responsibility for fracking). On cue but without any rehearsal we all fell to the ground at once. It still gives me chills, watch it below, then "Stop the Frack Attack."
UPDATE: On the day that I wrote this, the New York State Assembly passed a two-year moratorium on fracking, with the NY State Senate set to follow. Illinois anti-fractivists mic-checked their governor's office Just like fracking can happen anywhere, so can the movement to stop it. And we can win.