listen up, democratic governors

May 23, 2013

I’m holding my remake of the classic anti-war poster and waiting for the protest to start with, from left, Michael Hartman, Shaun Mathis, Liz Feighner and Ruth White.

Fracking protesters mussed up a little corner of perfectly coiffed National Harbor yesterday afternoon. As those attending the Spring Policy Conference of the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) were allegedly preparing for dinner, 70 or so activists outside listened to some fiery speeches, marched up and down a sidewalk, and yelled and carried signs about the dangers of fracking. No governors were in view, although people with the DGA logo on name cards occasionally gave us a glance as they headed somewhere on the opposite sidewalk.

Much of the message was directed at Andrew Cuomo of New York and Martin O’Malley of Maryland — governors with presidential aspirations who have the natural gas industry knocking at the back door, protesters at the front door and the mess that is fracked Pennsylvania next door.

“Democratic governors should be representing us and not the oil and gas industry,” said Mark Schlosberg of Food & Water Watch, one of the organizers of the protest.

The protest came during a week of Senate hearings on natural gas supplies, exports, best practices and environmental effects. Also, the out-of-state speakers were at a Stop the Frack People’s Forum in DC earlier in the day.

“We can do it safely, but if we do it safely,  it won’t be profitable,” said  Fred Tutman  of Patuxent Riverkeeper.  He urged protesters to also look at the ripple effects of fracking, in particular the Cove Point plant that Dominion Resources Inc. is trying to turn into an export facility for liquefied natural gas. “This is a bridge fuel to no place in particular,” he said, but local communities will pay for it with their water.

For more than a year, Rod Brueske has battled commissioners in rural Boulder County, CO, over fracking wells near his organic farm. He lodged complaints after his family experienced  nosebleeds and other health problems. Turns out wells were releasing excessive volatile organic compounds, violating air quality regulations, and the company had to pay a $15,000 fine. “They buy pickup trucks for less than that,” he said. Of his state’s governor, Democrat John Hickenlooper, Brueske said, “We don’t have a governor in Colorado. We have an oil and gas man who is moonlighting as a governor.”

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Tammy Manning, Craig Stevens and Ray Kemble live near fracking wells.

From Pennsylvania, land of the List of the Harmed, Craig Stevens, Tammy Manning and Ray Kemble brought warnings about well water contaminated with methane and fracking chemicals. Calling fracking “generational suicide,” Stevens said, “I will not stand by and watch my neighbors…be poisoned.”  For now, Manning’s family uses a driller-provided “water buffalo” because her well water has had high levels of explosive methane since 2011, after fracking began nearby. She constantly fears that the gas companies will withdraw the replacement water because Pennsylvania officials claim the methane has nothing to do with fracking – even though she is near 10 wells, four of which had casing failures. Kemble used to work in the industry so was able to inquire about extensive repairs on the rig 500 feet from his house. He said one of the workers revealed: “We’ve got major casing failure. This casing’s been leaking since ’08,” when the well was drilled. Kemble said some of the 27 chemicals in his water are uranium, barium, silica, strontium and arsenic.

After the protest ended at 5:30 p.m., a few of us from CCIHC  wandered around National Harbor to avoid rush-hour traffic. As we headed for the huge sculpture of “The Awakening” on the beach, a police officer stopped us from walking toward an adjacent boardwalk jutting into the water where others were clearly allowed to go. She said the area was reserved for a private event and not for protests. We assured her that the protest was over, and that we were just avoiding traffic. Our shirts were clearly a problem: We were walking protest signs. We also carried our cardboard signs. As we turned to leave the sculpture, we noticed the DGA sign. Turns out we were precariously close to the dock and boat where the governors were congregating. A few minutes later, another officer zoomed up to us on a Segway to ask our intentions. We again said the rally was over and we were just waiting to leave.

Here’s what the police couldn’t stop: A clerk in a store, people sitting on the off-limits (to us) boardwalk and people in the parking garage and on the street all asked about our shirts and fracking.

–elisabeth hoffman 

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Protesters came with a message for the National Governors Association.

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