A firsthand account by an Ithaca College senior and member of the student organzation Frack Off, of the rally and march in Steuben County on September 15, 2015. by Jessica M. Santos
“I love small towns like these,” Meredith gushed from the back seat. My other three passengers, also members of the Ithaca College club Frack Off, murmured in agreement. It was a cute town, there was no denying that, and the weather was beautiful, allowing us to fully appreciate our scenery.
Painted Post, a small town in Steuben County in the Southern Tier of New York, is found at the intersection of the Cohocton, Tioga and Chemung Rivers. At first glance, looking around the town, it feels like it would be a close-knit community. But that community is currently being torn apart by the threat of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a method of extracting “natural” gas from the ground that pollutes and wastes local water supplies, causes severe health problems in residents living near sites and causes myriad other environmental and health problems.
Fracking is hitting the residents of Painted Post with full force. Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed that Steuben and its four counties to the east — Chemung, Tioga, Broome, and Chenango — should be used as experimental sites for hydraulic fracturing. Thus, those who oppose this relatively new technology of unconventional gas drilling have dubbed the five counties the “Sacrifice Zone.”
On Saturday, September 15, three actions took place in solidarity for the Sacrifice Zone. The one in Painted Post brought four of my fellow students and me to this town about an hour southwest of Ithaca. Three of us are passionate anti-fracking upperclassmen; two are freshmen learning about the issue and eager to attend their first antifracking rally.
There was a great turnout. About 130 people came out for the rally, at least 50 of whom are Steuben County residents. Most were middle-aged and older, while a few brought their families (including small children and dogs). Many audience members held handmade signs. One, with a painted rainbow background, read, “They get billions, we get bad water?” Another, with a drawing of a fracking drilling rig, said, “A pipeline to poison.”
The day’s speakers included Sandra Steingraber, Ph,D,, biologist, author, poet, visiting scholar at Ithaca College and by now well-known and respected antifracking all-star; Angela Monti Fox, founder of the Mothers Project and mother of Josh Fox, the director and producer of Gasland; Mary Finneran, Painted Post native, educator, and cofounder of FrackbustersNY and other groups; and the Reverend Gary McCaslin, pastor of a local Baptist church.
Each speaker encouraged audience members to grow together as a community to support the people in the Sacrifice Zone: in thinking of only our own locales, they pointed out, we leave each other weaker and more vulnerable to water, air, soil and human health poisoning. These things know no political boundaries such as town, county and state demarcation lines.
Fracking companies are withdrawing millions of gallons of water from this water-rich area, transporting it by night trains that have been waking up residents and their children. The issue has become extremely important to the local residents — and to anyone who can remember the last time they missed out on a good night’s sleep, their concern makes a lot of sense.
However, it could get worse.
“The saddest thing,” Finneran said, “is this: If my conjecture that all of this increase in industrial activity is in preparation for fracking the land of Painted Post — a land that was selected to possibly be a place for the Statue of Liberty — is in any way right, the noise of the train’s whistles and bells will be nothing compared to the drills going bump in the night, the trucks revving through town 24/7, and the gas-flaring jet-engine noise.”
Other themes that came up frequently were those of safety and jobs, two topics that speak to both opponents and proponents of fracking. There were two pro-frackers in the audience, who seemed fairly unswayed throughout most of the day; however, Steingraber made a direct appeal to them and the rest of the audience.
“Whether you are for fracking or against it, I love all of you. I love my children. I want jobs for all of us and for all of your children … [jobs] that don’t kill them and don’t destroy their lives.”
After the rally, around 100 people participated in a march through the town’s commercial district, following the path of the night trains. Leading the group were horn players who played rousing songs to accompany us.. They also had smaller hand instruments that were easy to play for novices, so each of us from the club took a shot at playing the tambourine and small drum. Meredith had so much fun doing this that by the end of the trip, she was looking up the prices for tambourines online.
As we walked, we were shocked by the path of the railroad tracks. They were literally right across from houses yards away — and as we passed by, many children came out to check out the music. It literally shocked my fellow club members and me that the train routes were so close to these houses, and to imagine what these families must go through when they are awakened several times throughout each night.
Although this wasn’t the biggest rally some of us have ever been to, it was still a very inspiring experience for all of us. The freshmen seemed as eager as we are for our next meeting and rally, and I finished the trip feeling as if my participation in the day might have helped the community. A worthwhile way to spend a Saturday afternoon.