Faith on the Front Lines

"What sustains me here on this blockade is not religion but collective action — a faith not in the idea of heaven but in the immediacy of Earth."

| Spring 2017

  • In all the coverage of this issue, those who oppose hydraulic fracturing are continually labeled “environmentalists.” Those who support it are referred to as “residents.” Never mind that we are residents as well, many for multiple generations.
    Photo by Flickr/Marcellus Protest
  • There is so little time to change the damage being done by our unrepentant use of fossil fuels — in as little as 30 years, we could render this planet uninhabitable.
    Photo by Flickr/Progress Ohio

It is so hot my skin is slick with sweat. My shirt clings to my back with a disagreeable tenacity. The sun bores down with all the subtlety of a drill bit; overhead, a few clouds wrestle half-heartedly for rain and give it up. It is an unseasonably warm day in late May, but then again, aren’t all the seasons coming earlier these days? It’s hard to remember what the weather is supposed to be. We stand in a line, side by side: before us the road, behind us the vast bowl of Seneca Lake, all around us the rolling hills and vineyards of the New York Finger Lakes. If you kept your eyes closed, you could imagine that all was right with the world. You could forget that beneath the lake lie hundreds of acres of depleted salt caverns and that just behind us, Crestwood Midstream, a Texas-based energy company, is gearing up for work. But of course we are not here to forget. We are here to remind. We form a human blockade before these gates, to prevent the trucks from entering or leaving, to interfere with business, or, at the very least, to bear witness to a crime that is about to be committed: the storage of that liquid propane gas in those abandoned, unlined salt caverns beneath a lake that provides the drinking water for a hundred thousand people.

A constant stream of traffic barrels past; drivers honk vigorously, give us the thumbs up, or, sometimes, a gesture of another kind.

“So why do you do this?” the reporter asks. “Why stand all day in the sun?” My brain struggles to connect some thoughts, but they disperse like the clouds beneath the sun’s fierce glare. “What do you hope to accomplish?” he asks.

He’s a nice guy; he waits patiently for my response. We had thought that Governor Cuomo’s ban on fracking in New York State had put an end to all this. We wouldn’t end up like our neighbor, Pennsylvania, its mountains fracked beyond recognition, its streams cloudy, its water poisoned. But the industry’s latest response to the claims of pollution has been to propose the use of LPG — that is, liquid petroleum gas — instead of water to frack the wells. Pumping methane, propane, and butane into the earth to fracture rock has been touted as much more “environmentally conscious” than the use of water. Whereas water returns to the surface along with the natural gas, bringing with it all the chemicals that are used in fracking, LPG remains obediently where it’s been put: in the earth.

It’s hard to wrap one’s mind around the environmental consciousness of such a concept.

But it’s the perfect way to get around that pesky fracking ban.

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