Saturday morning a group of about 150 anti-natural gas folks got together to protest natural gas development in New York State. We provided a live report that day but there’s a lot more to tell. This was like some Back to the Future time machine trip to the 1960’s without the magic or the DeLorean and nothing but the eccentric Doc Brown. It was totally anti-climatic – a protest that, in the end, and, in a word, bombed like a poor comedy routine.
The protestors began by meeting at a park and ride facility in Cayuta, New York (just south of Ithaca) where several out of state vehicles driven helped filled the parking lot. We noticed some familiar faces such as the Raging Chicken’s friend Wendy Lee from Bloomsburg University, for example (the raging chicken is a website run by a Michael Moore wanna-be out of Kutztown). Once there were no parking spots left for anyone, including people using the park and ride for its intended purposes, the natural gas opposition vehicles (NGOV’s) overflowed to a motel parking lot next door. The joke was on them though as Frank Maines, the owner of the Redwood Inn, who is very supportive of the natural gas industry, called the police.
Here is what Maines had to say about the whole thing:
I don’t want these tree huggers on my property and I would like everyone to know that these people are in the minority here. They come from all over including different states to protest something that will ultimately help the New York area. I got tired of looking at the economically depressed areas in the Southern Tier, I bought a little place in Pennsylvania for retirement after I sell the Redwood Inn.
Once everyone assembled, the leader spoke briefly and then led the crowd in a car caravan several miles south to the gates of Schlumberger’s facility in Horseheads, New York. The goal was to block Schlumberger trucks from entering the facility. Unfortunately for the protestors, Schlumberger had discovered there was a possibility they were coming the night before and simply avoided bringing trucks in while the protestors were present, closing access for that purpose. This completely deflated the balloon launched by our friends on the other side, who, sadly, seemed to take glee in the fact they might have deprived Southern Tier workers of an opportunity to make a living (they didn’t but are quick to claim they did).
We saw many familiar faces including Sandra Steingraber. Steingraber is a graduate of Ithaca College and a known anti-natural gas activist. She compares the protestors’ actions to those of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. She also mentions that if people are willing “to lay their bodies down” there may be hope in keeping hydraulic fracturing out of NewYork. This was desperate pitch, to say the least, but overstatement and hyperbole are hardly new to Steingraber. She also uses natural gas to heat her home, of course.
Another couple at the event were from Rachael’s home town of Afton, New York. Attorney Mary Joe Long, Green Party member and former candidate for New York State Attorney General, is an Afton Town Board member who is adamantly opposed to natural gas development and a lot of other things besides (as you might expect). She has previously counseled protestors on how to deal with vandalism charges and is another example of the permanent protestor mindset and surely would enjoy a trip back to the 1960’s on that time machine.
Long brought along her husband Mike Bernard, well known to all Aftonians. Nothing is ever peaceful when Bernard is around as he seems to have trouble controlling his outbursts. As Joe was taking pictures, Bernard screamed out, “Flip off the gas man!! Flip off the gas man!! The guy in the white hat is with the gas industry!” One girl who worked to set up the protest ran over to him and reprimanded him immediately. Some class, huh?
Accusations and Assertions Fly
The leader had a few outbursts of her own including accusing us of lying and attempting to stand in the way of Joe taking pictures. Some of this is captured in the short videos below.
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Yes, we laughed, too, when they called Ingraffea “the father of fracking.” What a huge exaggeration that was for a guy who appears to have spent about 2% of his time several years ago supervising a Cornell study for Schlumberger and then runs around talking about having “worked for Schlumberger” as if he had been in the industry.
You’ll note the antis appearing in these videos were also quick to criticize a comment made by Tom at a Bloomsburg University panel discussion about natural gas development being likely to improve water quality in Pennsylvania (first video 0:15). This is due to the extensive baseline water testing being conducted as a result of it, the undeniable consequence being that previously unknown water quality problems are now being identified and corrected in direct response to it before natural gas development even takes place. Let’s look at some information from Brian Oram.
I have baseline tested areas with no gas development at all. 49% of the people had water you couldn’t drink because of bacteria. 20% of these had e-coli and arsenic above the drinking water limit. We are also finding elevated levels of barium. Again, this is in an area of no natural gas development.
Given Brian’s observations, is there any doubt water quality is improving as a result of natural gas development? The answer is obvious. The antis are ignorant of the simple facts and choose to substitute their own baseless speculation for them. That was pretty much par for the course at the Horseheads protest.
Inside the Mind of the Protester
From talking to the protestors, it turns out at least a few of them use natural gas in their homes. This seemed strange so we asked one of the activists why they thought it appropriate to object to a resource they use every day themselves. One of the folks we asked responded, “We have the infrastructure for natural gas so I can’t use anything else. Its not just about natural gas, America as a whole wastes a lot of energy.”
Lets break this down in its most fundamental parts –
1) I protest the development of natural gas.
2) I go home and use natural gas.
3) I think we should be using renewable energy as an energy source.
4) I don’t use renewable energy as an energy source.
5) America wastes energy
Do As I Say, Not As I Do
We then asked the same protestor how they reduced their energy use. The response was unexpected and rather shocking as the activist declared, “Nothing, I won’t make a difference, its up to everyone together to get on board with this to make a change.” Isn’t this typical of so much of the opposition to natural gas development? How is it that a person can argue for change without being willing to change their own lives one iota in support of their principle? Well, the answer is simple. What they want is respect for their beliefs without the necessity of any responsibility for them – a cheap ticket to glory. No sacrifice is required. No wonder we see so many trust-funders among the opponents. No other single statement so captures the essence of what our friends on the other side are all about and it may be summarized as “do as I say, not as I do.”
Wendy Lee (friend of the raging chicken and frequent commenter on this blog) cut in to snap a picture of us filming, as if we weren’t going to put up a post discussing the rally and she needed a video to prove the natural gas industry was there. Lee had used Facebook to encourage people to come and protest by saying the following:
Anyone with any sense, any respect for science, any feeling for the dignity of human life, any appreciation for that wonder that is the natural world will oppose fracking and all of its associated industries. Watkin’s Glen. BE THERE.
Is it too much to ask for Wendy to come down off this high horse (or raging chicken) and recognize we, too, have respect for what the science has said since day one – that natural gas development is safe and can be done responsibly. We also value the dignity for human life. The industry creates jobs for people who have been out of work, people who cannot make ends meet anymore. The natural gas industry could mean saving a family farm in upstate New York or may be the difference of passing a family farm down to grandchildren or handing it over to a bank due to foreclosure.
Sad Song Revele and Ode to the Sixties
Like any protest, this one offered plenty of chanting and the antis even broke out into song. Their song, and their mindless chants during the song (e.g. “frackeree, frackerah”), drove home the absurdity off what we see from these folks on a daily basis. The lyrics alone show how little research has gone into their narrative. Rather than investigate the real story of natural gas development and discuss how to continually improve the process, they chose to spread misinformation through song. Once they finished singing and chanting, one of the lead antis followed by screaming, “the industry lies!” It’s hard to imagine, but these not so clever one liners lured in this crowd hook, line, and sinker! Watch the song, chants and outbursts below. See if you don’t agree this was little more than a protest for protest’s sake – a sad song revele that might well be described as an ode to the sixties.
The Air Goes Out of the Balloon
The afternoon fizzled quickly once the group realized trucks were not going to enter or exit the facility. The anti-natural gas leaders actually tried to convince the crowd they had succeeded in shutting the industry down. Nonetheless, once the group heard the trucks weren’t coming they left, obviously disappointed. It was
Schlumberger, in an extremely fitting end to this sorry routine, released a public statement about the rally.
We live and work in the Southern Tier of New York—it’s our home, too. We employee more than 350 individuals at our Horseheads facility, the majority of whom are from local communities. So we are particularly focused on reducing the impact our activities could have on the environment and our neighbors. Not just here, but in each of the locations in which we work.We recognize individuals’ right to demonstrate as long as it’s done legally—in accordance with local and state laws. However, out of an abundance of concern for the safety of our employees, we purposefully chose not to engage with protestors in any way. Because we were concerned about the protestors’ stated plans and potential for criminal activities on private property, we were able to proactively manage our activities to ensure our operations and services to our customers were not affected during the time of the demonstration.On our base, and in the field, it was business as usual.Our sincerest thanks go out to the men and women of the Horseheads police department and the New York state troopers.
So it was finished, until next time. We’ll be there. You can count on it, but don’t expect anything new. This stuff has been going on for half a century now and some folks just refuse to grow up.