On what many New Yorkers deemed a snow day, one overflowing gallery in the city was filled with artists and activists who decided to leave their warm apartments and hot chocolates behind in support of a cause worthy of traipsing through the snow. The event was "Fracking and Its Effects: A Panel Discussion," in support of Exit Art's "Fracking: Art and Activism Against the Drill," an exhibit open through February 5th.
The panel was hosted by Mark Ruffalo, an acclaimed actor/activist known among Huffington Post readers for his insightful pieces, famous among film watchers for his recent award-nominated performance in "The Kids Are All Right," and now infamous among government officials as a man who won't stop talking about fracking.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process that can be used to retrieve natural gas. It involves injecting chemicals, sand, and millions of gallons of water into shale rock. The shale is then shattered, releasing trapped gas. The problem is that when the gas comes to the surface, some water returns as well, and this water is often tainted with poisonous, carcinogenic chemicals.
The harmful effects of fracking are all too tangible, and Mark Ruffalo will be the first to tell you this. His friend's one-lane country road became a 30-foot highway for sonar pounding, and the quiet region of New York where Mark lives with his family may soon be destroyed by natural gas drilling.
Fracking ramification reports are terrifying, to say the least - after drinking water near fracking well sites, livers/hearts/respiratory systems fail, rare forms of cancer mysteriously grow, and cows drop dead.
Mark Ruffalo sat down for an exclusive interview with The Huffington Post, and told us, "I'm basically here to inform New Yorkers about the attack that's taking place on their water." To him, this attack is deeply personal, as he revealed, "I'm raising three kids right smack dab in the middle of it."
This attack will have consequences far into the future. Mark shook his head, as he explained, "Our energy use has gotten so out of control. The cheap, quick energy has become less and less available, and so our extraction methods have become riskier and riskier - now if you extrapolate that into 10 years, you have mountaintop removal, the destruction to health, water, landscape; you couple that with deep ocean drilling, you couple that with hydro-fracturing, you couple that with tar sands distillery... we are only going to see greater degradation, more and more catastrophes, and greater catastrophes."
He leaned in for a beat. "Either we're going to go with some grace into green energy, or we're gonna go kicking and screaming, but we're going by God. The world is already leaving us behind. We're being left behind. America. Because the gas and oil industry has a strangle hold on us. And our politicians." He leaned back, contemplating what he had just said, then nodded to himself. "But we're going."
And so over 300 people gathered for this full house, standing-room-only event, in hopes of going with some grace.
The panel was moderated by activist Tracy Carluccio, and featured a certified internist, a policy director, a filmmaker, and multiple artist/activists.
Mark Ruffalo introduced the panel, asking the audience, "Are we going to continue to put our lives, our health, our well being into the hands of politicians and corporations who consistently say they have our back, and at the same time, screw the bejesus out of us?"
Josh Fox, director of the critically acclaimed documentary "Gasland," spoke from personal experience about regions in this country where gas drilling occurs. He considers these places a new country, "where the rules of democracy that we enjoy in the United States of America don't apply anymore. You don't own your own house, you don't control your own fate, you don't have any say over what goes into your water or air. You could become ill at any moment and you have lost all the values in your home. Like many of us on this panel, your life is completely taken over by gas drilling."
But why exactly is this all-consuming? Josh explained that "you wake up dizzy and your children have nosebleeds in the middle of the night, and when you call the DEP they go 'well we don't have any evidence of pollution from hydraulic fracturing.'"
A few years ago when Josh Fox found himself caught in this all-consuming madness, he created "Gasland." Ultimately for Josh, it's not just about hydro fracturing, but our energy dependence in general. Josh concluded that "our problem's not going to be resolved, your problem's not going to be resolved, until we stop depending on fossil fuels altogether." The audience nearly cut him off with their applause.
When Josh spoke to us after the panel, he further explained his concerns with hydraulic fracturing, citing the gas companies as the challenge. They "spend a lot of advertising dollars to clean up their image, but they're not interested in cleaning up the problem, because they know they can't clean up the problem." And just how big is this problem? Coming from a man who has seen a lot traveling around the world these past few years, his eyes widened as he confessed, "the scope of it is terrifying, the impacts are enormous, the number of people who are affected is huge."
While Josh played the eyewitness on the panel, Al Appleton played perhaps the voice of authority. As the former Commissioner of NYC's Department of Environmental Protection and the former Director of the New York City Water and Sewer System, the man knows how the government really runs, and he's seen the red tape over green policies. "The [gas] industry would like you to believe... that green energy is thirty, forty years away." And yet, he argued, "In World War II we went from zero to a fifty million-man fully equipped military in five years. There is no reason to say that green energy is marginal and won't happen for thirty years, because listen, if we want green energy to happen, it can happen. Now." Al suggested that we do this by putting the billions of dollars currently spent on gas into green energy, including wind and solar power, as well as geothermal energy.
Heads swimming with mass amounts of passionate personal stories, legal facts, and calls to action, attendees hung around after the panel, and not just for the free grapes and champagne. Many visited the exhibit, a snaked hallway covered with photos, poems, even jars of water sent in from people affected by fracking. Others promoted new grassroots events, like Marc Black, writer of the song "No Fracking Way," who was in the midst of creating a 200-person music video in Woodstock. And then there were people like Nicole Shore, a young PR professional, who told us she attended because "clearly this is an issue that people care about in the city. And I think, if we can get everybody who was irate about the snowstorm last week to know about natural gas fracking, the problem will be solved."
And once everyone knows about the dangers of fracking, what should they do about it? Beyond slugging through sludge to a panel in a snowstorm, contacting representatives is key. According to Exit Art, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempts fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act, removing any liability and EPA oversight of the gas industry. Activists want to change this. Many are calling for a ban on gas drilling.
Mark Ruffalo offered direct advice for Huffington Post readers - "Get educated, go to NYH20, go to CatskillMountainKeeper.com, go to Damascus Citizens, go to "Gasland." See "Gasland." Educating yourself is probably the greatest thing you can do for yourself and your children." Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he continued, "What people have a hard time now with is hope. They feel like the system is rigged against them, and what I always say, and I know to be true from my own adventures and experiences, is if you're losing hope then you're not doing enough. And it's you, it's not it, it's you. And even writing a letter, you've already engaged in hope. You've done something that's proactive, that's greater than yourself."