Here’s a quick recipe for stopping fracking. In a rich, populous state like New York, you’ll need to get:
1. 20,000 active anti-fracking activists.
2. 80,000 public comments.
3. High-profile celebrity opposition.
4. Powerful, state-specific anti-fracking filmmaking.
5. A receptive government.
6. Effective, relentless grassroots organizing.
7. Mix each together in a heated political climate, and produce what is perhaps the most sensible outcome possible in the great fracas over fracking. New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he’d be delaying opening the state to hydraulic fracturing once again, in order to accomodate a stricter, fuller regulatory process and another round of public input.
The above recipe is what it takes in the modern day to successfully push back against an industry as well-funded as the gas industry, which is a big Cuomo campaign donor and self-proclaimed job creator in a sluggish economy.
The New York Times has an interesting look at why the governor has put the breaks on fracking again, after offering a poorly received plan to allow drilling in a handful of counties (usually poorer ones) that wanted to allow fracking — and it boils down to, above all, bare-knuckle organizing. Awareness campaigns and public participation have resonated clearly throughout the state. And some high-profile advocacy doesn’t hurt:
“Andrew has a very good political antenna, and we’ve never seen anything like this in terms of grass-roots power,” [Robert F.] Kennedy Jr., whose father was a United States attorney general, said … “In 30 years, I have not seen anything come close to this, in terms of the mobilization of the grass roots. You’ve got 20,000 people in the state who consider themselves to be anti-frack activists. So I think that’s got to impact the political process all around.”
Mr. Kennedy said that he and the governor had discussed the research on fracking, including examinations of how frequently the concrete well casings used in fracking fail, exposing potential toxins. He said they had also discussed a March study from the Colorado School of Public Health that found that people living near fracking sites were more likely to be exposed to harmful air pollutants like benzene and toluene.
Each of those issues have been hammered home by activists and anti-fracking advocates, and were immortalized in a film by Gasland director Josh Fox. His most recent documentary was a short that focuses specifically on fracking issues in New York state:
And even if Occupy appears to be simmering down, one real effect it had was to unite disparate New York activists, many of whom shared common cause in the crusade against fracking. That no doubt helped mobilize opposition. As did more traditional green groups working in the state. Activists were able to make connections and coordinate efforts, and to take advantage of public comment periods — hence the 80,000 comments whose volume no doubt caught Cuomo’s eye.
Obviously, none of this is actually easy. And the work is far from done: Fracking has just been delayed, and a final decision won’t likely be made until next year. And the industry remains powerful, and, most of all, rich — Mr. Kennedy told the times that “I’m surprised how long he’s withstood the tide. I’m proud that he’s done that. There’s no other governor who’s just said ‘let’s hold off.’ And he’s under, I can tell you, tremendous pressure by the industry and by others.”
Few states can assemble the ingredients listed above, those it seems that are necessary to successfully oppose an industry-led fracking push at the state level. But for activists and those concerned about the problems with the many health and environmental uncertainties that surround the practice, it’s a recipe worth trying to remix.