Environmentalists achieve a ban on fracking in New York, United States - 2012-2014

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Timing
Time Period:  
26-MAR
2012
to
17-DEC
2014
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
New York state
Location Description: 
All across NY
Goals: 
Induce ban on hydrofracturing for natural gas or 'fracking' in the state of New York, United States.
 

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” injects a mixture of water, sand and
chemicals under high pressure into dense shale rock formations to crack
the rock and release oil and/or natural gas. Oil companies began using
the process around 1950, but only in the mid 2000’s did it become a
widespread environmental issue as energy companies began developing new
ways to find oil and gas as the cheaper, easier sources were depleting.
One geologic formation, called the Marcellus Shale, included about 1/3
of southern New York state, including the Catskill mountains and the New
York City watershed, which supplied fresh water to New York City in the
United States of America. The energy companies wanted to drill
thousands of holes for extracting primarily natural gas, or methane,
across the area.

They promoted the new projects by predicting an economic boom for an
area with a weak and struggling economy. Energy companies in
Pennsylvania had already begun fracking on the other side of the
southern border of New York with much controversy over its overall costs
and benefits. The supporters said it would bring jobs and revenue to
the area and the state. The opponents said it generated an unacceptable
health risk from air pollution and water pollution. US law allowed the
energy companies to refuse to release information about the chemicals
pumped into the ground by identifying them as proprietary information.
However, testing in fracked areas revealed many chemicals known to be
cancer causing. Use of the chemicals risked contaminating the
groundwater without a known way to clean it up. Supporters said it could
be done safely with the proper regulations. Opponents replied that the
environmental agencies, like Pennsylvania Department of Environmental
Protection had insufficient staff to monitor and properly regulate the
thousands of wells being drilled, and that, over decades, the wells
would leak and potentially contaminate the water supply. In New York,
Governor David Patterson, declared a moratorium in 2008 to give time for
the state government health department to study the issue and make a
recommendation to the governor. Andrew Cuomo became governor in 2008,
and successfully ran for reelection in 2012. The anti-fracking campaign
targeted Governor Cuomo during much of this campaign.

In March of 2012, anti-fracking groups came together to form a
coalition, New Yorkers Against Fracking (NYAF), to coordinate action in
hopes of having fracking banned in New York. By 2014, well over 150
groups had become involved. They came together partly to join their
resources so that they could do things individual groups couldn’t do
alone, including advertising campaigns and videos. One of their most
visible activists, actor Mark Ruffalo, aired their first video on
national TV when he was a guest on the Colbert Report, a popular comedy
show that parodied news broadcasters.

The coalition created a social media site on http://facebook.com on 23
March 2012, to promote their events, document their activities and
spread the word about the dangers of fracking and opportunities to help.
They also created a website around the same time to host blogs and
press releases, publicize events, educate about the issues, and recruit
new supporters.

NYAF members held public meetings and rallied at legislators’ offices
around the state, including State Senator Jack Martins’ office where
they presented a petition on 23 April 2012 with 2,600 signatures urging
him to support a current bill to ban fracking. They also presented a
letter with over 70 small businesses, religious organizations, and
leaders signing on asking him to co-sponsor the bill. The next day, he
did co-sponsor a bill for a moratorium on fracking, but not a ban.

Activists wrote many letters to the editor in various newspapers
throughout the campaign about the dangers of fracking and urged a ban in
New York state. One of the leaders, Eric Weltman of Food and Water
Watch, wrote to the New York Daily News on 29 April 2012.

The campaign made it clear that many New Yorkers opposed fracking. They
delivered petitions to officials and sent comments to hearings about
fracking. On 2 May 2012, they delivered 200,000 signatures asking for a
ban on fracking to Governor Cuomo’s office in the state capitol, Albany.
Meanwhile, the opposition, the energy industry lobby group, the
Independent Oil and Gas Association (IOGA), ran its own effort to
influence public opinion by sending postcards attacking the celebrity
supporters of a ban as lacking credibility because they were not
scientists. IOGA further asserted that scientists and engineers didn’t
believe fracking was harmful and that people should trust their
expertise. This lobbying group arranged private meetings with
legislators and the Governor’s staff on 2 May 2012 rather than holding
public events.

NYAF organized a multi-media concert and rally on 16 May 2012, with Mark
Ruffalo and Melissa Leo hosting and Natalie Merchant, Joan Osborne,
Tracy Bonham, and many others performing. On 15 May 2012, an external
ally, the national group Frack Free Nation, conducted a series of
events. They presented the Governor with a basket of food produced in
New York that they claimed would be adversely affected by fracking,
including apples, cheese, wine and maple syrup. They also held a die-in
protest that led to the arrest of two protesters for disorderly conduct
as they sprawled on the floor in front of the doors to the Executive
Chamber.

The local groups within NYAF held many rallies and protests aimed at
influencing the legislators who would be involved in the decision around
allowing fracking or not. At the district office of the Senate Majority
Leader Dean Skelos on 7 June 2012, 70 people held signs and banners and
chanted slogans urging the senator to ban fracking in the state.

Whether fracking could be done safely constituted one of the central
controversies. Josh Fox, who made the Academy Award nominated
documentary, Gasland, and its sequel Gasland 2, produced a short 18
minute film to support the anti-fracking campaign in New York. Released
late in June 2012, it challenged the idea that fracking could be done
safely.

The campaign involved many artists, including celebrities who used their
ability to get media attention to publicize their opposition to
fracking and educate the public about the dangers. They formed a group,
Artists Against Fracking, in August of 2012 to organize themselves and
create a collective identity for their activity to ban fracking. Yoko
Ono and her son Sean Lennon Ono organized the group with 150 members in
August of 2012, growing to 200 by 2014. Ono and her son appeared on late
night TV, ‘Late Night with Jimmy Fallon’, on 13 July 2012.

Sometimes the campaign used costumes to attract media coverage and make
their point. On 15 August 2012, NYAF protesters held signs and banners
at the Yogurt Summit, where industry experts, New York dairy farmers and
government officials had come together to brainstorm how to increase
milk production in New York and support the growing yogurt industry in
New York. The area being considered for fracking included many dairy
farms and a large greek yogurt company, and some protesters dressed up
in cow costumes to draw attention to the threat that contaminated
drinking water would pose to the dairy industry.

On 27 August 2012, several thousand people held a rally outside the
governor’s office in Albany and delivered letters containing pledges by
more than 300 people to take nonviolent direct action if he allowed
fracking in New York state. Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon Ono presented
204,000 public comments opposing fracking on 11 January 2013 in
response to proposed draft regulations released by the Department of
Environmental Conservation. That same day, activists held a rally with
1,500 or so people opposing fracking, and many of them took a pledge
together to conduct civil disobedience to stop fracking. They chose this
time to hold the rally because the moratorium on fracking was scheduled
to expire soon in February of 2013.

Governor Cuomo’s administration was reported to be planning to promote a
plan to limit fracking to 5 ‘Southern Tier’ counties only in
communities that support it. NYAF resisted the Governor’s attempt to get
a compromise. In early February 2013, the campaign decided to start a
‘twitter storm’ (social media campaign) along with thousands of phone
calls to send two messages, ‘Don’t frack NY’ and ‘Not one well’.

On 12 February 2013, the Cuomo administration decided to delay their
decision about fracking and to complete a comprehensive study of the
health effects of fracking, to ensure they would not risk the public
health. Their focus on public health effects led to NYAF’s decision to
start a new social media campaign called ‘Another Fracking Problem’ on
25 February 2103, to highlight what was wrong with fracking as part of
their public education program.

NYAF continued its efforts through the spring and summer of 2013 to
broaden the support base, continue public education, and increase
pressure on the governor. On 19 April 2013, Yoko Ono opened an art show
called ‘Imagine No Fracking’ and invited allies and members of Artists
Against Fracking to call or tweet (send a twitter message) to urge the
governor to ban fracking. On 17 June 2013, NYAF organized a rally and
‘March to stop fracking and say yes to renewable energy’ with over 130
organizations and 2000 people participating. On 26 July 2013, NYAF
started a “Frack Facts” social media campaign to spread the information
about the science and data that show the dangers of fracking.

In the fall of 2013, the anti-fracking activists began to increase their
use of celebrity allies and attracting national attention. During the
last week in August, activists in Buffalo, Syracuse, Binghamton, and
Scranton rallied to send a message to President Obama as he travelled
through their communities that they didn’t want fracking . In November
of 2013, Marisa Tomei, Darren Criss, Lance Bass, Daryl Hannah, Amy
Smart, Hayden Panettiere and Wilmer Valderrama appeared in a series of
celebrity videos NYAF released that challenged President Obama, Governor
Brown of California, and Governor Cuomo of New York to ban fracking for
health and climate change reasons.

Similar actions were conducted throughout 2014. Activists held regular
rallies and wrote letters to the editors, protested at any public
appearance of the Governor, and continued to hold public meetings for
educating local communities. The campaign leaders made a decision to
‘bird dog’ Governor Cuomo, to confront him with protesters demanding a
ban on fracking at any public appearance he made. This continued for the
entire campaign through the end of 2014. They chose this strategy
rather than trying to win incremental legislative progress, which they
felt would lead to unacceptable compromises. Their slogan was ‘Not one
well’. They wouldn’t agree to fracking in only certain counties where
the community approved it. They focused on the health risks in their
messaging to the public, rather than mentioning many different reasons
they opposed fracking. They wanted a clear focus that people could
remember and to which they could relate.

The Health Department released its findings at a year-end cabinet
meeting in Albany. The acting state health commissioner, Dr. Howard A.
Zucker, presented the findings and said there was insufficient evidence
that fracking could be done safely. This analysis led the administration
to ban fracking in New York, thus meeting the goal of the campaign.

Research Notes
Influences: 

Not known.

Sources: 
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Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Jamie Irwin, 07/03/2015