extreme heat, extreme protest
July 29, 2012
The Stop the Frack Attack march ended fittingly, with perhaps a dozen hot, sticky protesters slipping into the basin in Franklin Square and splashing around under the fountains. Some raised soggy signs that said, “Keep the Frack out of my Water.” Someone yelled, “Whose water?” and the crowd around the edges of the pool yelled back, “Our water!” “Whose water?” “Our water!”
This day in the nation’s capital was about water. About protecting it from the certain damage done by hydraulic fracturing. We couldn’t stop thinking about water. And the relentless sun only served to remind us how much we need clean water. Water to drink, water spritzed on us by sympathetic bystanders. Water from ice cubes handed out by volunteers along the march route so we could rub them on our arms and faces and necks.
And a chant rose up from the crowd:
we get sick
and they don’t care
“Anyone thirsty?” “Gasland” filmmaker Josh Fox deadpanned to the crowd. “Here. I brought some water from Pennsylvania.”
From Maryland, Ohio, New York, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Texas, Michigan and other states, and even Australia, people concerned about fracking’s effects or already harmed listened Saturday afternoon to speakers and music and then marched from the U.S. Capitol to the offices of the American Petroleum Institute. Although people in numerous states have protested locally, Stop the Frack Attack was the first national rally against fracking.
Our Maryland contingent had a pre-rally at Spirit of Justice Park, a few blocks from the main rally on the west lawn of the Capitol. As we stood in the shade of a few trees, Mike Tidwell, director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, listed some of the planet’s warnings: last month’s derecho storm that brought all the impacts of a hurricane but none of the warning, our winter that never was, last fall’s damaging Tropical Storm Lee, a March that broke warm temperature records for April, flooding in Beijing, droughts out West. Everywhere, it’s “too hot, too dry, too wet,” he said.
Driving all this extreme energy is extreme energy extraction, from “barbaric” mountaintop removal that crushes communities before the extracted coal is even burned; to drilling in the ocean with rigs the size of the Eiffel Tower; to tar sands oil extraction that requires “peeling back” the surface of land; to fracking, which causes forest fragmentation, contaminated water, earthquakes from reinjecting toxic wastewater, endless truck traffic over country roads and water from faucets that bursts into flame. And if we burn all that natural gas from shale, Tidwell said, and send all that methane into the atmosphere, we will raise the temperature of the planet 6 degrees F by 2100. What we thought was a bridge fuel to renewables is instead going to cook the planet and wreck the climate.
He said that Delegate Heather Mizeur will introduce a bill in the next General Assembly that will call for a statutory moratorium on fracking. Garrett County and parts of Allegany in Western Maryland lie atop the Marcellus Shale. Unless the oil and gas companies can prove that no harm will result, fracking wouldn’t be allowed, Tidwell said. In the last General Assembly, the American Petroleum Institute “parachuted in and told our legislators that Western Maryland doesn’t care about clean water,” he said, “and Montgomery County doesn’t care about climate change.” As a result, 11 bills that would have regulated fracking died during the session.
API will call us radical, Tidwell said, “but what could possibly be more radical than changing the atmosphere?”
We marched together to the main rally, where hundreds, maybe thousands, had gathered. Some people huddled at the tree-lined edges of the lawn, desperate for a bit of shade. But then one of the rally organizers said that unlike the oil and gas industry, everyone should “get out of the shadows.” So, into the sunlight we moved.
“We are standing together for justice in our country’s oil and gas communities,” said Gwen Lachelt of EARTHWORKS. “We are honoring Americans who bear the impacts of energy development. We want a new energy economy.”
Kari Matsko, a landowner from the Marcellus Shale region of Ohio, was among the harmed. Six years ago, she told the protesters, she awoke in severe pain, unable to move. She was in her 30s and had been healthy; a series of tests produced no diagnosis. But her home was 2,500 feet from a hydraulic fracturing site, and her windows had been open during those July days. Soon, she learned that a neighbor’s children had been rushed to the hospital the same week. That family lived 1,000 feet from the drilling site. Hydrogen sulfide gas, a natural byproduct of some wells, was the culprit. It can cause symptoms from dizziness and headaches to breathing difficulties and even death. We have all seen the warnings that accompany television ads for medications, Kari said, but the oil and gas industry, in its promotions for natural gas, never says “may cause imminent death.”
A sign along the way:
It’s hard to live well next to a live well.
Laura Amos of Colorado came with her daughter Lauren. “Ten years ago, the gas companies proved that if something can go wrong, it will go wrong,” she said. Her family’s water well blew up during drilling on her land, she wrote in an EARTHWORKS essay. The water in their previously abundant well turned gray and bubbly and smelled awful. They didn’t even own the mineral rights.
The industry turned their neighborhood into an industrial zone, she said. “We’re afraid to drink our water. We’re afraid to breathe the air. We’re afraid to let our kids play outside.”
“We found out you’re not good neighbors,” she said of the oil and gas industry. “We’re afraid of living with you, but we are not afraid of you.”
Water is our right.
Josh Fox asked the crowd if anyone had been to a fracking site. Some hands went up.
Well, everyone has now, he announced, “because this is the biggest frack site in the country.” The Washington Monument looks a lot like a drilling rig, he said. After much investigating, he’s figured out that T. Boone Pickens and other oil and gas executives must have drilled down through that monument, then drilled horizontally under the Capitol and injected money. Lots of it. And with that money, they bought exemptions from the Safe Drinking Water Act and other environmental laws. We might not have an extra $747 million to buy back our government, Fox said, but “we have bodies, and we have minds and we have hearts.”
Fox also had some advice. He had spoken with a landowner in Arkansas whose artesian well had been contaminated from fracking. The landowner spoke not of “America” but of “our America.” “Who’s going to fight for our America?” he would ask. That landowner also said to never look at the size of the enemy.” If you think you can win, you will.
The solution, Fox said, is solar and wind energy. “We can do this now, and in the process we can change the world.”
“We can take back our power. We can take back our America,” Fox said.
“We are fighting the biggest fight human beings have ever fought,” said Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org. The fight will be close and hard, and we will have to go to the core, the heart of the oil and gas industry, he said: “If [they’re] taking away our planet and our future, we’re taking away their money. … Money is the only thing that hurts them.” He seemed dismayed that more people weren’t there to fill the lawn. Next time we will, he said.
Jameson Lisak from Pennsylvania spoke in particular to the teens and 20-somethings in the crowd, saying, “It’s for us that everyone is fighting.” He and his generation wonder what life will hold if the water is contaminated and the climate damaged. “I don’t want to be here [at the rally]. … None of us wants to be here,” he said, “but we don’t have the option to sit at home safe … because we fear losing our water, we fear losing our land, we fear losing our health.”
Respect existence or expect resistance.
Catherine Thomasson, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said the protesters would save more lives than doctors, because changing policy saves lives. She encouraged everyone to get five more people to fight fracking. “We’re here to demand change,” she said.
In 2009, Doug Shields was a Pittsburgh councilman when the mayor started rhapsodizing about the jobs from fracking. The mayor assured the council members, “We would prepare for well fires and pollution and other disasters.”
“I’d say, ‘I’d rather not.’ ” Shields said. “We want to prepare for future generations.” Pittsburgh is now a frack-free zone, having passed legislation making it the first city east of the Mississippi to ban the drilling.
The oil and gas industry has always said it needed predictability and uniformity, Shields said. So does he. “I like to be able to predict that when I turn the faucet on, that water will come out,” he said. “I need predictability. And I need uniformity of the application of our laws.” He decried the “arrogance of the oil and gas industry” and its friends in government. “We don’t have an oil and gas problem. We’ve got a democracy problem here.”
I stand with Dimock.
And then we marched and chanted to the front of the impassive, glass-windowed headquarters of the American Petroleum Institute on L St NW. Some protesters held signs up to the doors. Others knocked over a replica paper drill erected for the protest. A participant was supposed to leave a gallon of fracked and brown faucet water that no one would dare drink, but no one from API was there to receive it.
Heading to Franklin Park and buses or the Metro home, protesters listened to Ohio folksinger Zach Freidhof, who had biked to the protest from Williamsport, MD, with Tour de Frack. From atop the Bus for Progress, he sang what should be the anthem to the anti-fracking movement, although the sound was not quite loud enough. “I Want a Future Too” needs a bigger audience, so here it is once again:
I Want a Future Too
(c) Z. Freidhof 2012
Dont tell me that its alright
I know the truth inside
Don’t tell me about oversight
I know the truth you hide
This heres a beautiful place
This heres my only home
No time to make mistakes
No time to get it wrong
I don’t want your poison
I don’t want your money and crew
I don’t want your future
I want a future too
Don’t tell me that the waters safe
That the smell wont sicken me
Don’t wanna explode my place
Trying to make some tea
Well this heres a beautiful place
Its home to more than just me
Once you break this place
No fix we’ll ever see
Ohh oh-oh oh oh ohh oh-oh oh
Don’t tell me about the jobs
That youre gonna bring
This town needs sustainable work
Not raping and pillaging
This heres a beautiful place
Our own liitle Shangri-la
You wont move into this place
So take your trucks & get off our lawn
I want t a future too
Ohh oh-oh oh oh ohh oh-oh oh …