Monday, July 29, 2013

Fracking Fight Comes to Long Island

(My column in Long Island newspapers this week.)
            The fight over fracking has come to Long Island. Although there are no shale deposits here to exploit for gas by hydraulic fracturing —known as fracking—the ocean off Long Island could be the site of a terminal that opponents charged at a recent public hearing is aimed at sending gas fracked in the U.S. to foreign nations.
             Meanwhile, the powerful documentary Gasland II—which concludes with documents showing the U.S. gas industry seeks to export much of the gas fracked in the U.S.—was screened at the Hamptons International Film Festival. It received a standing ovation from the packed audience at Guild Hall in East Hampton. Afterwards, there was a panel discussion organized and led by actor Alec Baldwin. It included Josh Fox, director, narrator and writer of Gasland II and the earlier documentary, Gasland, which in 2011 was awarded an Emmy and nominated for an Academy Award. I was also on the panel.
The Suffolk Legislature has now passed two bills on fracking: one to block water utilized in the process from being sent to any sewage plant in Suffolk for disposal, and a second barring “the use of hydraulic fracturing brine” on county property or roadways.
Fracking uses massive amounts of water sent under high pressure, along with 700 chemicals, into shale deposits to fracture them and release the gas held in them. Some of the chemicals are “known carcinogens,” notes the first bill. It warns of fracking wastewater being discharged from sewage plants to then “feed into Long Island’s sole source aquifer.”
As to “fracturing brine,” this is also a fracking “waste product,” notes the second bill,  and “some businesses that perform hydraulic fracking would like to dispose of such brine by providing it to local governments as a road de-icing agent for use in the winter.”
The hearing July 9 on the proposed offshore gas terminal was held in Long Beach. A $300 million project of Liberty Natural Gas, it would be set up 19 miles south of Jones Beach. Although the company claims its purpose is to import gas, speakers challenged this at the crowded hearing run by the U.S. Maritime Administration and Coast Guard.
Catskills Citizens for Safe Energy issued a statement declaring that the U.S. gas industry through fracking “is now producing so much gas” that it “plans to export half of it…overseas.” Although the terminal’s “sponsors claim that their facility will be used to import gas,” an amendment was made last year to federal regulations that allows for “export as well as import.” The planned terminal “off Long Island would be perfectly situated to export fracked gas…to Europe and Asia. If that happens, then fracking in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia will be ramped up, and the pressure to frack New York might prove to be irresistible.” There has been a New York State moratorium that has expired on fracking. Governor Cuomo is considering whether to now permit it. 
Gasland II puts the fracking situation in sharp and comprehensive focus. Josh Fox began investigating fracking after his family got a $100,000 offer to frack on land on which his father built a house in the woods of Pennsylvania. What he uncovered and presented in his first documentary, Gasland, was literally explosive. People all over the U.S. whose property is used for fracking have their well water loaded with gas. What comes out of their water faucets is shown repeatedly in Gasland bursting into flames when lit with a match.
Gasland revealed the identity of the toxic chemicals used in fracking. And it chronicled the serious health impacts to people along with the environmental devastation from fracking.  
I commented on the panel July 5 at Guild Hall that when I heard Mr. Fox was doing Gasland II, I could not see how he could follow his astounding earlier documentary—but that he broadened it “with perfection” and it is as important and powerful as the first film.
In Gasland II, now being aired on HBO, Mr. Fox not only widens his examination of the health and environmental disasters caused by fracking but exposes how governments—led by the Obama administration—have eagerly allowed fracking to happen and expand. Gasland II spotlights fracking as a major contributor to climate change. It reveals the gas industry’s hold on governments. As U.S. Representative Brad Miller of North Carolina says in Gasland II about industry influence over Congress: “Try ownership, really.” It tells how the gas industry’s lead PR firm pushing fracking was a pioneer in claiming cigarettes are safe. It provides expert analysis about fracking being unnecessary—how safe, clean, renewable energy can provide all the power we need. It presents data linking fracking to earthquakes. Gasland II shows again and again peoples’ drinking water on fire. It cites fracking as also releasing radioactive poisons held in the shale. A rape of the planet and an attack on peoples’ health is underway. Gasland and Gasland II—must-see documentaries.

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