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BY LIZA BÉAR | As the hydrofracking issue becomes increasingly contentious, with deadlines approaching on every front, opponents are mounting efforts to alert residents both Upstate and in New York City to what they say are the hotly debated drilling technique’s dangers.
Residents of the Southern Tier, which sits atop the Marcellus Shale, are concerned about known carcinogens in the water used in the drilling process, wastewater and air pollution from methane gas, as well as the loss of their homes’ real estate value once the land has been contaminated. Clean-water advocates in New York City share their concern about pollution of the aquifer, which, they fear, could affect the city’s watershed due to seepage of chemicals used in fracking. Also, local environmentalists and residents are worried about potentially dangerous levels of radon in Marcellus Shale natural gas. And there is also fear over the risk of pipeline explosions in a dense urban area, such as the West Village, where the Gansevoort Peninsula is the endpoint for a 16-mile, 30-inch, high-pressure pipeline that Spectra is constructing from New Jersey under the Hudson River.
On Oct. 18 there was a special screening of the Academy Award-nominated film “Gasland” at the IFC Center on Sixth Ave. at W. Third St. The screening was introduced by John Vanco, managing director of IFC, which initially released the film in 2010, and actress and Village native Scarlett Johanssen, who champions environmental causes, and who reiterated her support for potential mayoral hopeful Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.
“The stakes have never been higher,” said Stringer in his opening remarks. He called hydrofracking unreliable and dangerous and an “outrageous environmental affront.”
An hour earlier and a few blocks away on Leroy St., the Hudson Public Library held a free screening of “Gasland” organized by Sandra Koponen of Occupy the Pipeline. This screening was attended by Josh Fox’s mother, who spoke on his behalf while the “Gasland” filmmaker shared the IFC stage for the post-screening Q&A with Sean Lennon, co-founder of Artists Against Fracking, along with his mother, Yoko Ono, and musician Yuka Honda of Cibo Matto, who helps run the A.A.F. Web site.
There was also a surprise visitor, from the heavily fracked town of Dimah, in Susquehannah County, Pennsylvania, featured in “Gasland,” who spoke passionately of the devastation brought to his home town, and had a plastic gallon jug filled with dirty brown well water affected by fracking to prove it.
Although the benefit was specifically for Josh Fox’s production company, International WOW and Water Defense, “fracktivists” from Sane Energy and Occupy the Pipeline, with green painted faces in hazmat overalls, were holding signs on the sidewalk outside the theater.
“There were people working on the issue out West and in Upstate New York since 2008, who previewed early versions of the movie and worked with Josh Fox,” said Clare Donahue, co-founder of Sane Energy Project. “But without ‘Gasland,’ a national movement the size of what we have now would not have happened.”
Inside the theater, Sean Lennon explained he had never intended to be an activist.
“What happened to Josh in the film I never thought would happen to me,” he said after the screening. “A few months ago the gas companies came to my family’s farm Upstate. The issue grabbed me and swept me away. It felt like I had no choice.”
Lennon added, “What we could offer as artists and musicians is a public voice and a media campaign.”
In related news, Spectra is cleaning up its Gansevoort construction site in preparation for shutting it down on Thurs., Nov. 1, for the winter. Nevertheless, daily vigils and protests in and around the site continue unabated. On Oct. 14, Koponen and Donna Stein, both boaters, set sail from Hoboken on a small houseboat holding “No Spectra, No Fracking” banners.
On Tues., Oct. 23, at 1:30 p.m., George Pingeon, an Occupy the Pipeline member, locked his wrist to a backhoe with a chain and U-shaped padlock at a new pit dug by Spectra at the Gansevoort construction site, north of the original pit, which has now been boarded up. It seems to have been a spontaneous action that Monica Hunken, another activist present at the site, described on the phone as “an act of passion.” When the police arrived, Pingeon unlocked himself of his own accord. He was taken to the Sixth Police Precinct and later Downtown to The Tombs.
On Thurs., Nov. 8, Community Board 2 will hold the first joint hearing with Spectra and Con Edison, that latter which is constructing the final 1,500 feet of the pipeline, connecting the Spectra 30-inch, high-pressure distribution line running under the Hudson to the Con Edison grid, a much older pipeline infrastructure.
On the legal front, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has denied the request for a rehearing on approval of the Spectra Gansevoort construction filed by New York City and New Jersey plaintiffs led by Sane Energy. On Sane Energy’s Web site, Donahue announced that the decision will be appealed.
The case against Spectra and the Hudson River Park Trust, led by Sane Energy and five other community and environmental groups, is scheduled to be heard in court on Tues., Nov. 13.