Fracking opponents protest with artistic flags

In the spirit of Tibetan prayer flags, a public art project and call to action event will highlight

In the spirit of Tibetan prayer flags, a public art project and call to action event will highlight community sentiments toward hydrofracking with hundreds of flags at this weekend’s Sharon Springs Farmers’ Market.

Lisa Zaccaglini and husband Mike Shuster have spent the last few weeks building up support for the Day of Action event that will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday across from the Roseboro Hotel, just off of Route 10 on Main Street.

“We’re artists already,” Zaccaglini said. “So we’re used to thinking in terms of art and how that can effect change.”

The Sharon Springs residents were inundated with supportive comments on their Facebook page, “Sharon Springs Against Hydrofracking,” which promotes grass-roots efforts to ban hydrofracking in the village and town. They decided they would turn the comments into artwork on the Tibetan prayer-style flags.

Concerns have been raised about the environmental effects of extracting natural gas from shale using hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking. The process involves injecting fluids into deep horizontal wells under high pressure.

Residents are concerned about the ultimate disposal of such fluids, which environmental groups say can contaminate water supplies.

“It’s a beautiful, tranquil place to live,” said Zaccaglini of her hometown. “We have historic water and historic land and it will be destroyed if hydrofracking comes here. Not only our water, but the landscape will also become industrialized.”

During several neighborhood canvasses to raise awareness, Zaccaglini said residents were shocked when they learned that 90 percent of Schoharie County’s drilling leases were signed in Sharon Springs.

With some of the $1,400 that had been raised, Zaccaglini bought markers and colorful silk for community members to design their own flags at Saturday’s event. The flags will be placed alongside a completed sculpture at the farmer’s market, and hopefully spread throughout town, she said.

The movie “Gasland” will also play continuously in a nearby tent for residents to learn about hydrofracking’s dangers, she said.

Zaccaglini said she and other community members want their local legislators to ban hydrofracking within the town and village through New York state’s Home Rule laws.

Hydrofracking opponents also say they want state Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, to advance three bills that protect against hydrofracking, including a one-year moratorium on hydrofracking, classifying fracking waste as hazardous, and restoring local protections over natural gas.

But those who favor hydrofracking say opponents have their facts wrong.

New York began using horizontal drilling in the 1980s, but the equipment and technology it requires is the same used in vertical drilling, which has been practiced much longer, said Jim Smith, vice president at Corning Place Consulting, an Albany firm that represents the state’s hydrofracking industry.

In addition, the same protocols remain in place for aquifer protection, fluid containment and waste handling.

“This is the exact same technology we’ve been using on 90 percent of the wells in New York for the past 60 years,” Smith said. “And it’s never resulted in groundwater contamination, which is their major claim. So I don’t know what the fear is about.”

He cited a recent three-year Massachusetts Institute of Technology study released June 9 that examined the benefits and dangers to harvesting natural gas. As the cleanest-burning fossil fuel, natural gas can have significant impact at little cost, the report found.

New York state sits on a large natural gas supply in its Marcellus Shale, a black shale formation that extends deep underground from Ohio northeast into Pennsylvania and southern New York. The state uses 1.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas a year.

Ninety-one percent of all gas and oil wells use hydrofracking and the environmental impact is negligible, according to the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, which represents more than 400 companies in the oil and natural gas industry.

Drilling in Schoharie County doesn’t mean that the area landscape will become industrialized, Smith said. In any municipality with drilling leases, rigs stay up for a few months and tanks and valves leading to an underground pipeline remain afterward.

“They really have to understand that it won’t be a huge rush,” Smith said. “There simply isn’t the equipment available to have 1,000 rigs go up in the first year. You might see a slow progression of a rig going up and then coming down. It’s not as if they’re going to pop up overnight.”

Still, Smith said, the benefits of harvesting natural gas are too many to ignore: it burns cleaner than other fossil fuels, it’s important to America’s auto and home industries, and it is key to our nation’s energy independence.

“We do admit that it’s not a perfect industry,” he said. “But we do need this energy source for our economy and we believe that natural gas development can and will be done safely in New York.”

But Zaccaglini said she and fellow Sharon Springs residents don’t want to see the town’s recent renaissance halted in exchange for an industry town.

“The minute people know about this they do not want it,” she said. “This is about citizens getting educated and when people do they figure out that this is going to wreck our landscape.”

On Saturday, the group Capital District Against Fracking will present a day devoted to issues of hydraulic fracturing, beginning at noon in Wallenburg Park, between Broadway and North Pearl Street in Albany.

The day will include a poetry reading, a march, a host of speakers and live music. There will be tables available for local groups to advertise their wares and food provided by Gatherer’s Granola and Food Not Bombs.

Categories: Schenectady County

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