Fighting Fracking in the Hudson Valley: Actor Mark Ruffalo Leads the Movement to Stop Hydraulic Fracturing for New York’s Natural Gas

Could high-volume hydraulic fracturing be used to mine natural gas in the Valley? Some area residents — including a famous actor — are working to ensure that never happens

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fracking processDiagram by Al Granberg/courtesy of ProPublica

Click here to view the fracking process (image opens in new window)

On a Saturday in April at the Mountain View Manor in Glen Spey, Ruffalo attended a screening of Frack! The Movie, a new documentary by David Morris. He was joined by 400 others, many of whom had brought Tupperware bowls of food for a potluck supper. In between bites of lentil salad, Ruffalo was asked about what he has learned about a movement that is now reaching millions. “I see hope in seemingly disparate places of our community from people who share the same space, townspeople and city people. This is a leaderless revolution.

“I’m really no different than so many others, who want to get on with the rest of their lives,” he added. “I understand that for many, they don’t want to cause waves, and feel that the law will ultimately take care of them. But what I’ve learned in being involved in this fight is that there are many like me who are declaring who they are and fighting for what’s important, and doing it in a demonstrative way.”

The film ended. Ruffalo joined Ferguson and others at the front of the room for questions. From the far corner a woman said, “I have wells all around me. Let me tell you, the gas companies are coming. I know we have a moratorium, but what about after it’s lifted?”

Ruffalo stepped forward. At first, his voice was unsure, like it was running on ice. He took a breath, paused, and began again. “If you’ve given up hope, it’s because you’re not doing enough,” he told the woman. “Each step you take gives you something. We can all choose to walk out of here tonight and give up, or we can all choose to go home and pound our keyboards.”

He continued to speak, the volume of his speech rising with each sentence. “We stopped this! We put a moratorium on this! They told us for three years, ‘You can’t win,’ and then we went to Albany and then they said to us, ‘My God, there are a hundred of you here. This must be serious!’ ”

The overflow audience that had been respectful all evening — muted, one might say — surrendered their politeness. Ruffalo had tossed fuel on the bottled-up fury they’d been keeping inside for so long. The thunderous noise they made continued as Ruffalo — their good neighbor — retreated back into the anonymous thicket of the crowd.

marcellus shaleMap design by Arlene So

Marcellus Shale

Geologists have long known of the natural gas held in the tar-black Marcellus Shale formation. Named after a distinctive outcropping near Marcellus, New York, the formation is deep — a mile down in some places — and the shale isn’t very permeable so natural gas doesn’t easily flow through it. For those reasons, drilling companies largely ignored it until 2004, when Fort Worth-based Range Resources sank a well into the Marcellus in southwest Pennsylvania. The company discovered a surprising amount of natural gas and began experimenting with new methods of extraction.
It was then that high-pressure, horizontal hydraulic fracturing was born. Ranging from 200 to 890 feet, the Marcellus is at its thickest in its eastern section — which is near New York City and heavily populated parts of New Jersey. The formation is estimated to hold between 168 and 516 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. By comparison, New York State burns about 1.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year.

» Click here to view the trailer of HBO’s Gasland (opens in new window)



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