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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One day last year, Victoria Lesser maneuvered her white SUV along the winding roads between North Branch and Roscoe. She points to a 400-acre farm outside of Jeffersonville. It is a century old. “They’re looking to lease their land to the gas companies for drilling,” she says. Within an hour, she has driven by a half dozen other farms; each of them, she says, are contemplating doing the same thing. The payoff is immediate and lucrative; she says farmers in Pennsylvania have received an average of $5,000 an acre from the gas industry for the right to drill on their property, as well as potential profits for what may be found. That’s big money for small farmers, such as those in Sullivan County who are the victims of an upsurge in corporate farming and continue to pay mortgages on under-performing enterprises.
At a Delaware River Basin Commission meeting in 2010, Ruffalo told the farmers in attendance, “I think it’s criminal that the farmers in this country have got to rely on something like this in order to keep their farms.” In response, Ruffalo is spearheading Farmhearts, a new organization aimed at helping farmers stay in the agricultural business and out of the gas business. Recently, the group gave $12,000 to Sonia Janiszewski Persichilli, to support her work in establishing programs for farmers in the Catskill region. “As we saw farmers forced to sign lease contracts, we felt we would like to help them with better opportunities to sell their products, to put the focus on locally grown food,” said Ferguson, a Farmhearts board member.
After more than a year spent on the front lines of the fracking issue, Ruffalo has returned to his day job. Currently, he’s filming The Avengers with Robert Downey, Jr. Because of his film obligations, he was unable to join the hundreds of New Yorkers who descended on Albany last April to meet with more than 180 lawmakers, urging them to consider the DEC’s environmental review, which includes revised guidelines to determine the future of fracking in the state. During their visit, they called for the passage of a state bill that would govern industrial gas drilling under home-rule zoning rules in addition to statewide regulations, as well as legislation that would close the hazardous waste loophole in current state law and require better transport and treatment of hazardous wastes produced by oil or gas facilities.