Further Reflections on the Nov 30 NYC DEC Hearings

As I reported yesterday, I attended the Nov. 30 New York City hearing convened by the Department of Environmental Conservation on proposed new draft drilling regulations called the SGEIS, or Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (see MDN story here). I arrived at the TriBeCa Performing Arts Theater about 10:30 am to wait in line. Upon arriving, there were maybe 75 people in line. I immediately spotted my friend Bill desRosiers, field director with Energy in Depth – Northeast Marcellus Initiative who invited me to stand with him and his colleagues in line. Normally I don’t jump lines, but since there were perhaps 20 people between Bill and the end of the line, and the theater holds 1,000, I decided to stay and hang out.

Little did I know that our little group of pro-drillers was about the only group of pro-drillers that would attend the morning session. A few more showed up to be sure, but almost all of those who attended the morning, and according to accounts I’ve read for the evening session too, were against Marcellus Shale drilling. As I joined Bill (and later friends Tom Shepstone and Rachael Colley, also from EID-NMI), we were surrounded by anti-drillers. In fact, this gentleman was standing immediately in front of us, pointing his sign toward the street:

Fracking protest sign

At various times he argued with the EID people, claiming that fracking kills and will lead to poisoning of water, industrialization of upstate, etc. The arguments he mouthed we would hear over and over throughout the day. Later on, I had the opportunity to chat him up a bit and learned that he was raised in New York City but splits his time between NYC and Sidney, NY. Sidney is in upstate, not far from where I grew up, so we chatted a bit about the area. It’s clear that people who oppose fracking (wrongly, in my opinion) have strong beliefs that the process itself is an environmental catastrophe. At least, that’s what the rank and file, most of the people who attended the hearing, believe.

Anti-drilling leaders, on the other hand, have said (and said so at the hearing) that renewable energy is their aim. As MDN has pointed out, repeatedly, an ideology is at the core of the opposition to drilling for natural gas. That ideology says that all fossil fuels are evil and we must force people off from them now, “before it’s too late.” They believe a fairy tale, a fiction, and it drives their actions in opposing natural gas drilling. The easiest way to whip up opposition is to use a funny-sounding technology called fracking to do it. Anti-fracking is just a means to an end, the end being renewable energy nirvana. Interestingly, when Rachel Colley challenged the guy from Sidney holding the FRACKING = DEATH sign by asking him what energy he uses to heat his home, he was silent, showing the hypocrisy and contradictions within the movement itself.

As time marched on more people arrived. Just prior to entering the facility, we were treated to this display:

Fracking Poisons protester

Probably an out-of-work actor (there are lots of them on the streets of NYC). Hence my earlier post expecting a circus show. I wasn’t disappointed! There were a lot of anti-drilling signs, and people wearing anti-drilling stickers and buttons as well.

Just prior being let into the facility, around noon, Josh Fox showed up. Josh, in case you don’t know, is the creator and star of his self-made “documentary” called Gasland.

Josh Fox, creator of Gasland

Josh was the second non-public official to speak, even though he wasn’t in the line everyone else was in and arrived after many others were already waiting for a couple of hours. He obviously received preferential treatment from DEC officials, allowing him to speak early. He threw a copy of his Gasland film into the comment box where speakers were leaving a copy of their comments. He was immensely full of himself, playing to “his” audience as he spoke. Seemed to me he was trying to stretch out his 15 minutes of fame (thank you Andy Warhol) into maybe 30 or 45 minutes. Whatever.

Josh’s comments were that the debate should not be about how we can safely frack, but whether or not to frack at all. And he said, to rousing applause, that “fracking should be banned in New York State.” Thanks Josh. Last time I checked, you live in PA. Isn’t that what you said in your movie? Oh that’s right, movies are just fiction—how could I forget that?

As we entered the facility, a press conference was convened outside:

Anti-fracking press conference

The trash receptacle in the foreground is a metaphor for the sum total of what was conveyed at the presser.

As I settled into a seat to get ready to tweet from the event, I heard a couple of people a few rows behind me talking. One woman asked her friend, “Now what exactly does D-E-C and S-G-E-I-S stand for?” Which show the depths of ignorance and blind following that was rife among those who attended. They know they are against it because their friends, leaders, and the media tells them to be against it. But they don’t even know what “it” is! Oh, they remember the word “fracking” because it’s so close to another word that’s familiar to them. And that’s about it. Fracking pollutes. Fracking kills. Yada yada yada.

As the hearing began, we were treated to a parade of anti-fracking, anti-drilling comments. I can’t tell you how many times I heard “fracking should be criminalized” – and I heard it from public officials! State senators, New York City councilmen, state Assembly members. It was shocking. The crowd that attended wants nothing less than a total ban on fracking in New York State, believing that if it happens it will pollute the City’s water supply.

Some of the speakers were eloquent and whipped up the crowd with their rhetoric. Others were boring. Hey, it’s a big deal to stand up and face a crowd of nearly 1,000—it takes guts and moxie to do it. All but two speakers were against drilling.

I was not disappointed by the anti-drillers in attendance. Shocked, yes. Horrified at their behavior, yeah. But not disappointed—they are who they are. However, I was disappointed that pro-drillers did not turn out. I didn’t see a single pro-drilling sign! After reading Bryant LaTourette’s post on the EID-NMI website, I think I understand why (see his post here). I can understand not wanting to be booed and shouted at by an ill-tempered, rude crowd of fanatics. Completely understandable. But, this fight is too important. Landowners should have turned out in large numbers to face these people down and to tell their stories of losing the farm, of abject poverty, and of the chance to safely mine natural gas on their land. The fact they did not is disappointing.

And for the two people who did rise to support drilling, God bless you! You walked into the lion’s den and lived. It was unbelievable the way the crowd behaved. When speaking, crowd members repeatedly shouted “liar” and other things, like “murderers”. The DEC official running the hearing had to stop the clock four times during the first pro-speaker due to bad manners on the part of the crowd.

I was reminded once again of the profound wisdom and insight of the founding fathers of this country some 250 years ago in crafting a political system that would keep mob behavior in check. Let’s all pray that our system is not destroyed by that very mob. If this hearing was any indication, I’m worried.

A final thought

As rude and contemptuous as most of the people in the crowd were, I still do not consider them my enemies. They are my fellow citizens. I find their reasoning faulty, but they are passionate for their cause. I understand that. We will simply have to agree to disagree on this matter. The thing that is most disturbing is the lack of civility. As we were lined up along the street waiting to go in, standing in a cold wind near the river for several hours, the well-organized anti-people were going down the line offering hot coffee. I wanted some of that coffee! I needed some of that coffee. But when they got to our little spot where there were four of us standing, they skipped on by and ignored us.

Bill desRosiers told me that at the previous DEC hearings the EID-NMI people offered coffee to anti-drillers as well as supporters. It may be a minor thing, but it speaks volumes about the kind of people who “occupy” each side in this debate. The biggest disappointment to me is the utter lack of civility from those who oppose drilling. Oppose it—wrongly—if you must. But can’t you at least behave like adults? Apparently not.