Dear fellow New Yorkers and anyone else.
For weeks now, I’ve been trying to finish a letter to you, but interruptions have been frequent. Here’s what I’ve got.
Dec. 7, 8:00 pm
After days of wild, record-breaking weather, our village winter festival was cancelled because of rain and flood warnings. When I told Elijah the bad news on the walk home from school, he began to cry. I told him I was sorry and that I knew how much he was looking forward to the festival.
He said, I’m not upset about the festival. I’m upset because the planet’s dying. I know this is all because of global warming. Just like the hurricane.
And this is what I heard myself say: Mom is on the job. I’m working on it. I’m working on it really hard, and I promise I won’t quit.
Now you are all my witnesses.
Dec. 26, 5:00 pm
These words are being written in a cinema bathroom. I’m the chaperone for my 14-year-old daughter and her friends—the movie is rated R—but I’ve snuck out of the theater to read the proposed revised draft regulations for fracking. There are 328 pages of them, and we’ve been given only 30 days to offer public comments—right in the middle of the holiday. Pretty much all I’ve done since December 12 is read regs and help people create comments. To that end, I’ve dreamed up an Advent calendar project called Thirty Days of Fracking Regs.
It’s tough sledding. None of us has access to the previous draft of the regulations—which was removed from the DEC website—so we can’t judge how it’s been revised. We don’t have access to the environmental impact statement that’s supposed to serve as the scientific basis for the regulations. That study is not even finished yet. But, as a last-minute maneuver to avoid blowing a deadline, the Department of Environmental Conservation released a huge batch of regulations anyway. They are hastily drawn and full of glaring errors. They are legal placeholders in the march toward fracking in New York State, which makes the whole exercise of submitting comments absurd and maddening.
But this I know: silence is consent.
It’s Day 15 in the regs comment calendar. I need to finish tomorrow’s post (Section 560.6, on the use of diesel fuel in fracking fluid) before the movie ends. Happily, it’sAnna Karenina. I can only hope that Leo Tolstoy and Tom Stoppard are keeping the sex and violence quotient under control.
Am I a terrible mother?
Dec. 27, noon
The deadline for finalizing the regulations is exactly two months from today: February 27.
It’s weird to see people shopping, heading out for the gym, and meeting for lunch as though life were normal. As though an army were not massing on the border with plans for occupation. Is that a crazy thought? But that’s how the gas industry talks: The shale army has arrived. Resistance is futile. Those were the actual words of Bill Gwozd, vice president of gas services for the Ziff Energy group.
I choose not to believe the second half of that statement.
The shale army is an accident-prone, carcinogen-dependent industry with no boundaries. The shale army seeks to use our land as its beachhead, our water as its battering ram, and our air as its receptacle for its toxic fumes. The proposed regs for New York are no defense. They do not prohibit flare stacks, open pits, or indefinite venting of toxic gases.
My son has a history of asthma. The land all around us is leased.
My daughter will be learning to drive soon. By that time, our rural roads could be filled with fleets of eighteen-wheelers hauling hazardous materials. Data from other states show that the arrival of drilling and fracking operations brings sharp upticks in traffic fatalities.
Resistance is not only necessary, it feels like a fundamental responsibility of parenthood.
This is what I tell my kids: Until further notice, mom is on anti-fracking detail. That’s where all our money is going. That’s where all my time is going. You’ll have to pack your own lunch. We’re on wartime footing now.
Am I a terrible Quaker?
Dec. 31, 11:00 pm
New Year’s Eve with the regs. It’s quiet. I’m working on Section 750.3 tonight. As I type, I see my father’s hands. He was an amazing typist. When I was a girl, he let me practice on his prized Selectric, and he challenged me with typing drills: Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country. Over and over I typed those words. Faster and faster.
My father was a life-long Republican. He believed that the words “conservative” and “conservation” shared more than etymology. So do I.
Jan. 3, 2:00 am
I was about to go to bed when a story broke: someone just leaked a document from the NY Department of Public Health. It’s an eight-page analysis—drafted last February—that looks to be the beginnings of the health study that is being carried out in complete secrecy. If so, it confirms the worst fears of Concerned Health Professionals of New York. In letters to the Governor, in policy papers, and at press conferences, we’ve been calling for a transparent Heath Impact Assessment with public participation. This document repudiates that request.
In fact, this document repudiates the power of science altogether. In a series of assertions unencumbered by data, it seems to say that the health effects of fracking are both unknown and unknowable. A Health Impact Assessment is unnecessary because the uncertainties are too great to analyze, therefore the risks can be safely mitigated.
That’s not a scientifically sound line of reasoning.
Meanwhile, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are reporting an alarming 9 percent leakage rate from drilling and fracking operations. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas—way more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping heat. Methane leaks like that, if typical, would mean shale gas is a worse enemy to our climate than coal.
What role will science play in Governor Cuomo’s decision on fracking in New York, which grows ever nearer?
Jan 5, 1:00 pm
This is what I want to tell you:
Please come to Albany on Wednesday. The Governor is giving his annual State of the State speech, and the New Yorkers Against Fracking coalition is calling all New Yorkers to a rally outside the auditorium where he will be speaking. Buses are coming from all over our state. In those buses will be farmers, students, faith leaders, elected officials, scientists, doctors, nurses, parents, teachers, children, grandparents.
I want you on the bus. With all your friends. With signs and banners. With love and fierce resolve. Change all your plans and come.
There is nothing more important. Not your kid’s soccer practice. Not your yoga class. Not your career. We still have a chance here—in the still unfractured state of New York—to stop a brutal and extreme form of fossil fuel extraction, to show the world how to build a green energy economy, and to help Governor Cuomo keep his promise to lead on climate change. All that necessitates saying NO to fracking. Our children’s lives depend on our success.
To paraphrase my friend, Derek Jensen: The New Yorkers who come after us will not care how busy we were, nor how much we worried or grieved about their future. They are only going to care whether they can breathe the air and drink the water. They’re going to care whether the land is healthy enough to support them.
The Marcellus Shale is our Greensboro lunch counter. It’s our Stonewall riot. It’s our Seneca Falls Convention. This is our moment, and it hangs in the balance.
Dear fellow New Yorkers and anyone else.