Monday, August 24, 2009

Water Under Attack: Some NYC Officials Have Drawn Their Guns to Stop Natural Gas Drilling Upstate. What Are Upstate Citizens Doing About It?

Part 1 of Continuing Report on the Josh Fox Film Rage of Nature about Natural Gas Drilling In the Marcellus Shale Region, which includes a large region of upstate New York

by Paul McGinniss


Filmmaker Josh Fox must be related to Erin Brockovich who battled the mighty Pacific Gas and Electric company over its environmental crimes and became famous because of it. Like Erin, if Josh sees something happening he doesn't like, he takes action and does something about it. When New York City based Josh learned that unregulated natural gas drilling was coming to New York City’s watershed, as well as to his hometown in Milanville, PA, he got in his car with his camera and drove across the USA to find out about the damaging effects of the recent drilling boom out west.

Traveling to what he discovered were ravaged lands in Colorado, Wyoming & Texas, Josh interviewed people who lived near these drilling sites so he could tell people on the east coast what they said and what would happen if they let natural gas drilling into their region.

Josh found people who can light their tap water on fire, who can’t drink their well water, as well people in rural areas dealing with heavy levels of air pollution, who have stillborn livestock, and unexplained brain lesions.

The Marcellus Shale formation, which is spread over a wide area including Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, is reported to contain a huge deposit of Natural Gas. Many are looking at this as a cash cow that could create billions of dollars of revenue for the states and overall region it encompasses.

The problem is gas in shale is really hard to get out of the ground. That was until recently, when oil and gas companies, ever in search for new carbon to burn, figured out a drilling process called "fracking" or hydraulic fracturing.

What is fracking? It involves injecting enormous amounts of water and chemicals deep into the ground to get to the natural gas that is trapped in the shale.

What kind of chemicals you may ask? The gas companies, eager to start trucking in equipment to drill thousands of wells, claim the specific chemicals used in fracking are "trade secrets".

Under President George W. Bush, the gas companies even managed to secure an exemption in the United States Safe Drinking Water Act to exclude this fracking process from oversight. The Environmental Protection Agency usually regulates anything that could affect underground drinking water supplies. But in 2005, the natural gas industry successfully lobbied for the exemption for fracking.

Luckily, there is a movement to stop this mad rush for natural gas that is largely lead, in part, by people in New York City. NYC Council Environmental Protection Committee Chair James F. Gennaro has been one of the most outspoken critics. Of foremost concern is the environmental threat to the upstate watershed region from which NYC obtains its water.

Several Congress people, including Congressman Maurice Hinchey from upstate New York, have also introduced the The FRAC ACT -- Fracking Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act which would close the loophole created in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that exempted hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act. The FRAC Act would also require the oil and gas industry to disclose the chemicals they use in their hydraulic fracturing processes. Currently, the oil and gas industry is the only industry granted an exemption from complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act.

As recently reported by the New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV): "New York state is conducting an environmental assessment of the impact of "fracking", and the Delaware River Basin Commission has also raised questions. This has, in effect, created a moratorium on gas drilling in the Delaware River Basin, but this might not always be the case."

I spoke with Josh Fox today about his movie Rage of Nature. It was the first time we had spoken and I told him I wanted to do a series of reports about this issue and his film, this report being the first one.

I could tell from the get go that this is a man with a mission. He's not doing this film just to inform people. He's doing this film to get people to organize and say no to the plan to drill for natural gas in this region.

I asked Josh: "What is the likelihood that the Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling as proposed will happen?"

Seeming almost annoyed at the possibility that there was any other answer to my question than a resounding no, he answered: "I have no idea. That question does not really serve my purpose. To answer that question, the likelihood is great if people do not get involved. But, people are getting involved. This really is in the hands of the population. What is possible, I do think,is that anything can be stopped."

Check out Josh's interview about this issue with upstate New York Congressman Maurice Hinchey:

NY State Congressman Hinchey interview about FRAC ACT from JOSHFOX on Vimeo.

Copyright 2009 Paul McGinniss

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