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Locals Trek To Albany To Fight Fracking

Bhavani Jaroff of Old Westbury was among hundreds of vocal locals who took the fight against fracking to Albany last week, riding to the state capitol in buses to show their support for a ban at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address. 

 

“This is what democracy looks like. We live in a country that allows us to speak out and have our voices heard,” Jaroff said. “Civic action is so important.”

 

Long Islanders were joined by concerned citizens from across the state, who stood behind ropes before the entrance to the speech shouting, chanting and pumping “Ban Fracking” and “Save Our Water” signs. Attendees put the crowd at around 2,500; a separate protest, against gun restrictions, boasted about 20, they said. They did not see Gov. Cuomo himself, but some legislators, such as Charles Lavine, did come out to speak with the public. 

 

For Amy Peters, the looming threat of hydrofracking—a process for extracting natural gas from rock—in New York State brings “a strong sense of dread.” As a member of the Sustainable Sea Cliff Food Co-operative, she deals directly with the challenge of sourcing healthy fresh food. The co-op, which buys as much as it can from Long Island farmers before reaching out to farms north and west of the metro area, has already stopped sourcing from Pennsylvania, where fracking has been widespread. 

 

“If fracking comes to New York, we’ll have a hard time purchasing locally,” she said. 

 

As Julie Sullivan of Long Island’s Food and Water Watch describes it, “fracking”—formally known as horizontal hydraulic fracturing—is a dangerous method of drilling outward from deep wells into underground shale for gas, threatening drinking water, health, communities and the environment. Fracking in New York would involve injecting billions of gallons of fresh water, hundreds of potentially toxic chemicals and sand underground. Documented risks include earthquakes, contaminated groundwater, waste-water that contains radioactive elements, and air pollution. 

 

“New York shale represents a nominal amount of the nation’s gas reserves. It’s simply not worth the known risks given what’s at stake in New York; not the least of which are the health risks to our children and families ranging from asthma to cancer,” said Sullivan.

“There are alternatives to gas but there are no alternatives to plentiful clean water.”  

 

The impact on farm produce makes fracking a major concern for chefs and others in the food industry, as well as consumers. Chefs for the Marcellus, Slow Food and iEat Green were among the LI groups at the rally, which included tables showcasing (and selling) jellies, jams and baked goods from small producers. Jaroff, for example, is a natural foods chef and activist who has taught at Old Westbury’s Wheatley School and The Waldorf School in Garden City. 

 

Anti-frackers recognize the challenge to politicians under pressure from commercial interests. New York has a moratorium on fracking, but not an outright ban; the trip was meant to stiffen the governor’s resolve. 

 

“Cuomo’s been keeping fracking at arm’s length with the moratorium and we appreciate that, but feel at times it’s for political reasons,” said Peters. 

 

“We understand it’s hard for him to be strong on fracking politically because of jobs, energy needs and the economy,” she added, “but the jobs will be few and transient.” Agriculture is a huge part of NYS economy. 

 

“If we lose the water, we’ll lose the farms,” said Sea Cliff’s Burke, who leads Stop the Port Ambrose LNG Export. “Once the watershed is contaminated, it can’t be made nontoxic.” 

 

More than a dozen Long Island organizations, including LI Sierra Club, North Shore Audubon Society and Citizens Campaign for the Environment, sent members to the rally to speak for those who could not be there. 

 

“I get a lot of people saying ‘thank you for going and representing us,’” says Amy Peters, about the reaction she has gotten in Glen Cove. “It’s not easy to take a day off to get on the bus, so I’m happy to represent.” 

 

But Jaroff wants more. “There’s so much apathy here, affluence and apathy, that I want to show someone doing it,” she said. “I don’t want people to thank me for going; I want them to come.”