Hydraulic fracturing, better known as “fracking,” has not only left communities across this nation divided, but environmental and activist groups as well. This controversial issue has led environmental groups to develop varying sets of beliefs and goals, involvement, strategies, and events.
The anti-fracking movement gained much of its momentum after the release of Josh Fox’s Oscar-nominated anti-drilling documentary "Gasland," in 2010. In response, small, grassroots organizations sprung up across the country, demanding the natural gas industry take responsibility and rectify the environmental and health damages they had caused (Soraghan, 2012). Large-scale environmental organizations also expressed their opinions on gas drilling, some in support of hydraulic fracturing, and some with condemnation.
An organization’s goals should be the first and foremost characteristic considered when deciding whether or not to become a member. Berks Gas Truth is a grassroots community organization based in Kutztown, Pa. The group’s primary goal is education (Feridun, 2012). According to its website, Berks Gas Truth strives to raise public awareness of issues surrounding natural gas drilling to better equip their members and citizens to hold industry representatives responsible for their actions. In addition, Berks Gas Truth would like to stop natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania altogether (Berks Gas Truth). Founder, Karen Feridun says that while she would love to see hydraulic fracturing ceased in Pennsylvania completely, a short-term goal of her organization is to have all Pennsylvania anti-fracking activists come together around a moratorium to put a hold on further drilling (Feridun, 2012).
Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, an organization based in Milanville, Pa., which is located in Damascus Township along the Delaware River and the New York border, similarly aims to, “Preserve and protect clean air, land and water as a civil and basic human right in the face of threats posed by the shale gas extraction industry.” and also seeks to raise awareness about gas drilling. DCS also seeks to educate the public and raise awareness about gas drilling (Damascus Citizens for Sustainability).
Tour de Frack is a unique grassroots organization based in Western Pennsylvania, home to many of the state’s shale fields. Tour de Frack’s primary goal is to collect testimony and stories from individuals and families who have been affected by fracking and bring these accounts into the national spotlight (Tour de Frack). Michael Bagdes-Canning, a member of the Tour de Frack Planning Committee says, “We believe that once people see the human cost of this industry, they will wake up and deal with it in a meaningful way.” Ultimately, Tour de Frack would like to educate the public on the threats posed by the natural gas industry and stop gas drilling as well as other extreme extraction drilling (“Tales from the Trail,” 2012).
Education is a common goal among activist groups, yet, these groups do not always teach the same information. While Berks Gas Truth, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, and Tour de Frack focus on raising awareness about the dangers of shale drilling, The Responsible Drilling Alliance (RDA), located in Williamsport, Pa., considers both the dangers as well as the benefits of gas drilling. According to its mission statement:
We seek to educate ourselves and the public about deep shale gas drilling and all of its ramifications. Through outreach programs, events, public forums, and our weekly e- letter, we strive to balance the conversation with authenticity (“About RDA”).
The RDA weighs the pros and cons of leasing land to gas industries and instructs citizens on what to look for in an agreement as well as in a lawyer. Their goal is to educate on all the consequences of shale gas drilling, both the good and the bad.
National environmental organizations expressed their various goals regarding hydraulic fracturing as well. The Sierra Club’s “Hydrofracking Team” strives to ensure that local advocates have the “best possible information on hydrofracking, to prepare materials for local advocates to prevent or address environmental damage, and to reform national, state and local oil and gas industry regulations so that they can more effectively protect the public and the environment” (“Hydrofracking Team”). They also aim to expose the natural gas industry’s exploitation of loopholes and their disregard for environmental and health standards. Unlike many grassroots organizations, the Sierra Club does not call for the natural gas industry to stop drilling completely (“Hydrofracking Team”).
Similarly, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) does not call for the end of natural gas drilling but rather for modernized rules for well construction and operation. Furthermore, they aim to have the industry disclose of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing and tougher state and national regulations for properly handling waste fluids. Finally, EDF strives to have much more advanced planning that will eliminate the impacts of drilling such as noise and traffic on local communities (Environmental Defense Fund, 2012).
Size and Member Involvement
Grassroots groups and international environmental organizations are both concerned with fracking, yet their differences in size impact the goals they strive toward, the events they have and the type of work members can do for them.
Berks Gas Truth began with just three people in the fall of 2010 and has now expanded to more than 600 members. Berks Gas Truth is small enough so members can get involved in as much, or as little, as they choose but large enough to get attention from the media, government and other important stakeholders in the anti-fracking movement. Some members simply receive newsletters keeping them updated on local anti-fracking efforts, while others attend protests and rallies. Some of the most dedicated members work with local municipality officials to help draft anti-fracking legislation and enforce health and environmental regulation standards (Feridun, 2012).
Larger organizations such as the Sierra Club are concerned with myriads environmental issues. For those interested in specific topics such as fracking, members can join “teams” and create small activist groups within the larger Sierra Club organization. The Sierra Club’s “Hydrofracking Team” was founded in December 2009 and has approximately 320 members from all over the nation. Because members are so spread apart, they keep in contact through an online discussion board by posting about protests, rallies, articles, or any relevant news regarding the anti-fracking movement. Members interested in helping out more can conduct water contamination tests and organize lobbyist campaigns. Unlike smaller groups, however, the Sierra Club’s “Hydrofracking Team” mostly provides information and material about how to do these activities, rather than gathering members to attend these events (“Hydrofracking Team”).
Depending on the goals and size of an organization, each group uses a different set of strategies to achieve its objectives. Berks Gas Truth’s strategy is an all-inclusive tactic to get different types of stakeholders to sign off on legislative resolutions. For instance, though fishing and hunting groups may have different motives for anti-fracking, Berks Gas Truth strives to show the government and courts a joint effort to effectively pass resolutions. Berks Gas Truth also works closely with local municipality officials to fight back against unwanted hydraulic fracturing in their communities. “All municipalities have a right to make decisions for themselves,” says founder Karen Feridun (Feridun, 2012).
The Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS) has a “mutli-pronged approach” to combat natural gas drilling. This approach includes litigation, zoning assistance, and technical assistance (Damascus Citizens for Sustainability). Like Berks Gas Truth, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability partners with hunters and fishers in court hearings to advocate that state and national regulations be upheld by drilling companies. DCS also helps local communities control drilling in their towns by analyzing lease agreements and state laws (Heavenrich, 2010). Finally, DCS partners with environmental science experts to test water in local Pennsylvania municipalities for contamination due to shale drilling (Munro, 2012).
Tour de Frack takes a unique approach in their fight against fracking. On a 15-day bike tour in July 2012, the members of Tour de Frack visited communities affected by natural drilling gathering testimonies, interviews, and photographs to present at a massive anti-fracking rally in Washington, D.C. Tour de Frack takes a very personal approach in its mission to abolish fracking, by taking individual accounts and interviews and sharing them on a national level. Member Michael Bagdes-Canning claims:
This effort is designed to bring about a change in perspective and as a vehicle to pull the national focus towards human tales of fracking while uniting the voices of those who have lived it and seen its true dangers. We're collecting testimony, telling stories, of people in the shale fields (2012).
National environmental groups take advantage of their large membership to achieve their goals on a less personal, more large-scale manner. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) strives to attain their goals for modernized natural gas drilling by organizing massive petition signings to the government. EDF’s widespread popularity and notoriety facilitates thousands of members and non-members alike to come together under one petition and show support for its cause (Environmental Defense Fund, 2012).
Organization Events and Activities
The anti-fracking movement keeps its momentum by the continuous events and activities that activist groups organize and collaborate on. In February 2012, Berks Gas Truth hosted Deborah Rogers, founder of the Energy Policy Forum, and discussed the economics of unconventional natural gas drilling. Rogers stated, “After working more than ten years as a financial analyst it wasn’t very difficult to find discrepancies in the public reporting’s of financial records belonging to various public companies once I examined them” (Berks Gas Truth). Berks Gas Truth also organized an Act 13 Campaign Strategy Meeting in May 2012.
The goal of the meeting was to strategize with local municipality officials on how to successfully overturn Act 13, which strips local governments of control over drilling operations. Berks Gas Truth also holds monthly meetings to discuss the latest development of the anti-fracking movement in Pennsylvania (Feridun, 2012).
The Damascus Citizens for Sustainability partnered with local musicians to hold its “Rollin’ Down the River Kick-Off,” on May 6, 2012. The event was held at the Delaware Youth Center in Callicoon, New York. “Rollin’ Down the River” was designed to raise awareness about the effects of shale gas drilling in the Delaware River Watershed. Ralph Liberto, local musician and activist, commented on the event: “Music and the river were common threads that could be used to weave a safety net protecting our region from the ravages of gas drilling” (“Rollin’ Down the River,” 2012).
Tour de Frack’s major event was a 15-day bike tour running July 14-July 28, 2012. The bike tour began in Butler, Pa., and ended in Washington, D.C., along the Butler-Freeport Trail. Along the ride the bikers camped and met with individuals who wanted to share their stories about the dangers of natural gas drilling. With each stop, local musicians volunteered to perform and support Tour de Frack’s mission. On July 28, the final day of their tour, Tour de Frack riders met at the “Stop the Frack Attack Rally” on the Mall in Washington. Tour de Frack, along with more than 65 other organizations rallied together on the “National Day of Action” to show their dedication to the anti-fracking movement (“Tales from the Trail,” 2012).
To accommodate the Sierra Club’s members across the country, many of their meetings are via conference call and Skype. The “Hydrofracking Team” conducts a monthly conference call, during which members can give status reports about fracking updates in their local area. On June 22, 2012, the “Hydrofracking Team” hosted a conference call with Deborah Rogers. Although members did not get to meet her in person as they did at the Berks Gas Truth event, this conference call allowed members to listen in and ask her questions from across the nation (“Hydrofracking Team”).
Like the Sierra Club, the EDF strives to have events and activities that can accommodate members across the globe. On November 9, 2012, EDF sponsored at “National Go Green” short film contest. Members submitted short films under a variety of different themes, one of them being, “Energy Revolution in the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All” (Environmental Defense Fund, 2012). In addition, on April 6, 2012, EDF organized a large-scale petition titled, “Tell President Obama to Support Oil and Natural Gas Standards.” The goal of the petition was to urge President Obama to resist pressure from the natural gas industry to weaken regulation standards (Environmental Defense Fund, 2012).
Celebrity Activism and Large Scale Demonstrations
Anti-fracking activism received great attention and support from the celebrity community. Mark Ruffalo, an actor and director, became a leader in the anti-fracking movement approximately three years ago after moving to upstate New York near the Delaware River. Ruffalo witnessed his neighbors leasing their land to natural gas companies and decided he needed to act before his home and land were destroyed (Sheppard, 2012).
Ruffalo’s primary objective is to educate New Yorkers on the dangers of hydrofracking and convince Governor Cuomo to keep the current moratorium on fracking. On May 15, 2012, Ruffalo hosted a rally and concert in Albany, New York. The rally featured performers such as Natalie Merchant and Joan Osborne, both residents of rural New York. More than 1,000 concerned citizens turned out for the event to show Governor Cuomo that hydraulic fracturing would not be tolerated in New York. During the rally Ruffalo stated:
We are not the sum of dollars and cents, but people of flesh and blood who have entrusted the folks here in Albany to safeguard our health and our common good. We are here to celebrate our strengths and bear witness to the devastating public health and safety issues that surround hydrofracking. We are here to lift up the scientists and their better judgments against the paid-for political science of the oil and gas industry. We are here, firmly but respectfully, to ask our governor to be our hero (Goodell, 2012).
Ruffalo is confident that better science is driving the debates over hydrofracking and making it clear to Governor Cuomo that the moratorium must remain in place. Ruffalo says:
I see a real evolution happening in the governor’s thinking. Until a year ago, I thought it was a done deal [that the state would lift the moratorium on fracking]. But the more time that passes, the more info comes out about the dangers of hydrofracking. We’re getting better and better science, which is starting to drive the conversation. The governor understands this. So I do think there is a chance it could be banned in New York state (Sheppard, 2012).
Other celebrities have joined the fight against fracking as well. In July 2012 Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon launched an organization called Artists Against Fracking. The organization is a collaboration of musicians, actors and other artists who raise awareness of the dangers of hydraulic fracturing and advocate stopping fracking althogether (Navarro, 2012). Yoko Ono said, “It’s time for action. Give us sustainable energy without destroying our land, our states, our country.” Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon have led over 180 artists including Leonardo DiCaprio, Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Lady Gaga, Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to call on Governor Cuomo to stop fracking permanently in New York. With such well-known names supporting the cause, the fight against fracking has never had such momentum (Ferguson, 2012).
Along with celebrities, large-scale anti-fracking demonstrations receive a lot of media attention. On July 28, 2012, Washington D.C., was the site of the first national protest against fracking. The “Stop the Frack Attack” rally united more than 5,000 people from 136 local and national organizations to call upon Congress to ban fracking and protect its citizens. Attendees of the rally had three main objectives. The first was to end dangerous fracking practices, second was to close legal loopholes that allow gas industries to ignore the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, and the first was to enforce existing laws to protect communities from the dangers of natural gas drilling (Spear, 2012).
Bill McKibben, who has been referred to as “probably the nation’s leading environmentalist” by the “Boston Globe,” spoke at the rally. McKibben said, “As the increasingly bizarre weather across the plant and melting ice on Greenland makes clear, at this point we’ve got no choice but to keep fossil fuels underground. Fracking to find more is the worst possible idea.” Josh Fox, producer of Gasland, also spoke at the demonstration. He stated, “The amazing thing about this problem is that there’s a solution. We know that we can run the world on renewable energy. We know that we can run the world on the wind. And today, we have a reminder that we run the world on the sun.” The “Stop the Frack Attack” acts as a launching point for similar rallies that took place in Albany and Philadelphia (Spear, 2012).
The anti-fracking movement is relatively new, yet environmental organizations are making progress in their fight against natural gas drilling. The mere awareness of the issue in such a short time period shows how fast this movement is catching on. Berks Gas Truth began in the fall of 2010 with only three members. Just two years later, the group has grown to well over 600 members! Founder Karen Feridun expresses that one of the organization’s proudest moments was appearing in a major newspaper article without approaching the paper first. Another major accomplishment for Berks Gas Truth was organizing local Pennsylvania officials to fight against Act 13, which greatly limits the rights of municipalities with regards to natural gas drilling (Feridun, 2012). On July 26, 2012, the members of Berks Gas Truth witnessed their hard work pay off as the Commonwealth Court of Judges found Act 13 unconstitutional. The Responsible Drilling Alliance and Damascus Citizens for Sustainability consider this decision a victory for their organizations as well as the citizens of Pennsylvania (Damascus Citizens for Sustainability).
Tour de Frack has made progress bringing individuals’ fracking stories at a national spotlight. These testimonies have inspired people to join the fight against natural gas drilling and donate money to provide clean water to those in need. Tour de Frack members deliver 20-25 gallons of drinking water weekly to the residents of Connoquessing Township, Pennsylvania, whose water well was contaminated after the start of fracking Butler County (Tour de Frack).
In December 2011, the Environmental Defense Fund boasted a major victory when the state of Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission implemented a new regulation mandating natural gas industries to disclose the chemicals they use in fracking fluid for every well. EDF worked diligently with Governor John Hickenlooper and gas companies to adopt this new rule (Environmental Defense Fund).
Not all anti-fracking activist groups are the same. In fact, each group has their own defining characteristics, whether it be their size, goals, unique tactics, or group activities. It is imperative to research each group to find out which organization best fits your needs. Smaller, grassroots groups, help out local communities on a more personal level. You are more likely to get to know members in your group better, as well as those citizens who are looking for help from your organization. In a large, national organization, you may not get to know all of your fellow members, but you will be able to gain a more global perspective on fracking issues. Be sure to keep in mind what you are looking to accomplish. Do you want to stop gas drilling completely? Are you looking to help individual citizens attain justice? Would you like to see hydraulic fracturing standards improved? Ask yourself these questions to find the organization that is right for you.