Sean Lennon’s “Destroying Precious Land for Gas” and Susquehanna: a Common Struggle
The Pennsylvania and New York State movements against fracking are increasingly united. Pennsylvanians came to Albany on Monday to fight to continue New York’s ban on shale gas drilling. New York residents joined many of us in testifying at a formal hearing last night against permitting the giant Williams Central Compressor Station to emit 100,000 tons per year of toxic fumes, trashing formerly tranquil, now-troubled Susquehanna County, PA. Meanwhile one lyrical voice has cut through the static with a clear edge.
Sean Lennon’s essay on Monday’s New York Times Opinion page eloquently lays out the trouble with shale gas fracking. It’s one of the best-written pieces of condensed writing on the issue of high-volume gas drilling to come out in quite a while. He describes a meeting close to the farm his parents bought before he was born, where:
Some gas companies at the meeting were trying very hard to sell us on a plan to tear through our wilderness and make room for a new pipeline: infrastructure for hydraulic fracturing. Most of the residents at the meeting, many of them organic farmers, were openly defiant. The gas companies didn’t seem to care. They gave us the feeling that whether we liked it or not, they were going to fracture our little town.
That describes precisely the atmosphere at the Williams Compressor Station hearing in Pennsylvania last night, where PA DEP staff and gas company men sat stony-faced and unable to answer fundamental questions about public health and safety while dozens of residents, including organic farmers, testified powerfully. Two residents broke down in tears while attempting to testify. One, an organic blueberry farmer, said, “You guys have no idea what the people who live here are going through.”
Sean Lennon contrasts the gas companies’ ugly behavior with memories he savors from the farm in Delaware County, New York:
My earliest memories there are of skipping stones with my father and drinking unpasteurized milk. There are bald eagles and majestic pines, honeybees and raspberries. My mother even planted a ring of white birch trees around the property for protection.
Sean speaks of his own discoveries on the land his father loved:
My first introduction to a cow was being taught how to milk it by hand. I’ll never forget the realization that fresh milk could be so much sweeter than what we bought in grocery stores… I was lucky enough to experience trout fishing instead of tennis lessons, swimming holes instead of swimming pools and campfires instead of cable television.
Though my father died when I was 5, I have always felt lucky to live on land he loved dearly; land in an area that is now on the verge of being destroyed.
Sean Lennon dispenses with the industry’s ongoing attempt to frame fracked gas as “clean energy” and the associated myth that shale gas fracking does anything other than speed up climate change:
Natural gas has been sold as clean energy. But when the gas comes from fracturing bedrock with about five million gallons of toxic water per well, the word “clean” takes on a disturbingly Orwellian tone. Don’t be fooled. Fracking for shale gas is in truth dirty energy. It inevitably leaks toxic chemicals into the air and water. Industry studies show that 5 percent of wells can leak immediately, and 60 percent over 30 years. There is no such thing as pipes and concrete that won’t eventually break down. It releases a cocktail of chemicals from a menu of more than 600 toxic substances, climate-changing methane, radium and uranium.
New York is lucky enough to have some of the best drinking water in the world. The well water on my family’s farm comes from the same watersheds that supply all the reservoirs in New York State…
Gas produced this way is not climate- friendly. Within the first 20 years, methane escaping from within and around the wells, pipelines and compressor stations is 105 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. With more than a tiny amount of methane leakage, this gas is as bad as coal is for the climate; and since over half the wells leak eventually, it is not a small amount. Even more important, shale gas contains one of the earth’s largest carbon reserves, many times more than our atmosphere can absorb. Burning more than a small fraction of it will render the climate unlivable, raise the price of food and make coastlines unstable for generations.
Sean, we hope the PA DEP staffers and Williams representatives read your words, because they certainly did not appear to listen last night while rural Pennsylvanians were fighting for their lives and health. When we testified to PA DEP staffers last night in Montrose, PA at the Williams Central Compressor Station hearing that methane is 105 times more powerful in global warming power than CO2, the DEP staff looked blank. They said innocently that they continue to claim methane is only 21 times as powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2. PA DEP staffers also don’t do their own math on greenhouse gas emissions. For that they rely upon Williams, the corporation seeking to make sure their giant compressor station is not regulated by EPA as a “major source” of greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, PA DEP is confident that Williams’ compressor station will “only” emit about 98,801 tons per year of total greenhouse gas emissions, skimming just under the 100,000 tons-per-year threshold that would trigger EPA to consider it a “major source” of greenhouse gas emissions.
In this Orwellian world, we must unite the strengths of each of our statewide movements, from the voice of the blueberry farmer who spoke at last night’s hearing in Pennsylvania to the voice of Sean Lennon in the New York Times; from fifteen resilient citizens standing in front of a high school in rural Pennsylvania with signs and facts at the ready, to thousands of determined, angry people pledging to commit civil disobedience rather than allow high-volume horizontal fracking in their beloved New York State.
The surrounding states’ turbulence is swelling also, as our communication networks grow.
Last Saturday, a woman in Ohio surrounded by leased land told me she felt she was “living in hell.” A West Virginia woman described chemical burns and a welt on her eye resulting from contact with her tap water after shale gas drilling ruined their water and land. Yesterday Vera Scroggins testified at the hearing in Montrose that a Susquehanna County farmer with 200 head of cattle has reported changes in their water she believes is due to gas drilling; the family is experiencing diarrhea, a familiar symptom to many with water impacted by gas drilling.
Incident by incident, state by state, site by site and insight by insight, our movement unites. It doesn’t hurt, amidst this pain and struggle, to find a voice as powerful as Sean Lennon’s. Please read his essay in full and share widely.