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One of the most galvanizing issues for local environmentalists of late is hydraulic fracturing. Also known as fracking, this form of drilling involves pumping chemicals (which include known carcinogens), sand and huge quantities of water into shale formations to break them up and release toxic shale gas. This relatively new method of extracting energy is spreading throughout the U.S. (although the practice isn’t widespread in New York yet), but carries documented risks, such as air pollution and water contamination.
The issue is particularly important to Jessica Roff, who volunteers with several grassroots organizations. Her involvement with antifracking campaigns began while planning a June rally in Foley Square organized by the No Frack NY Coalition (nofrackny.org); the Brooklyn Food Coalition decided they wanted to be involved, and Roff volunteered as a representative. “The idea that someone wants to inject billions of gallons of our fresh water and tons of chemicals into the ground and pretend that there’s not a risk involved is just so absurd,” she says. “Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a Simpsons episode.” Since that day in Foley Square, Roff has testified at public hearings, lobbied in Albany and organized antifracking rallies.
While the antifracking groups Roff aligns herself with have quite a struggle ahead, some recent victories have galvanized the cause. One stopped the Delaware River Basin Commission from passing regulations that would have opened up drilling sites around the basin. Roff worked on a major phoning campaign, getting signatures and handing out information on the DRBC at an Occupy Wall Street march in Fall 2011. The tipping point came when Delaware governor Jack Markell, who holds a seat on the DRBC, said he would vote against the plan to open the DRB to fracking, indefinitely postponing a vote on the regulations. “That happened as a direct result of all the pressure that we were putting on the governor,” notes Roff. Then, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation granted two 30-day extensions to the public comment period on a Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement that would inform Governor Cuomo’s handling of fracking in the our own state. Again, according to Roff, this was in direct response to the hundreds of people lining up to speak at public hearings, as well as thousands of mailed and e-mailed comments. “I’m not naive enough to think we’ve finished any of our battles,” says Roff. “[But] this is one of the first times we’ve been taking action and seeing direct results.”
GET INVOLVED: If you want to learn more about how fracking can affect your life in NYC, get up to speed at United for Action’s lecture, “Frackonomics” at the New York Society for Ethical Culture (2 W 64th St at Central Park West; 212-874-5210, nysec.org. Apr 24 at 6:45pm; donation $10).
Along with Food & Water Watch (foodandwaterwatch.org), the organization also hosts Call Cuomo Mondays. “Every Monday, we flood [Governor Cuomo’s] switchboards so he knows we’re all still paying attention,” explains Roff. Call 866-961-3208 to be connected to Cuomo’s office via Food & Water Watch.
You can also get involved through social media: Water Defense (347-619-2954, waterdefense.org), the nonprofit founded by director and Oscar-nominated actor Mark Ruffalo, has recently launched Natural Gas Exxposed, a campaign to raise awareness, partly by asking people to share videos of how lives have been negatively affected by fracking on Facebook and Twitter.