Posted by Roz Freeman
On Monday, Sept. 19 in Gannet Auditorium, Lois Gibbs spoke on hydrofracking, community organizing and the importance of holding the government accountable for issues of environmental injustice. It was a talk that left the majority of the audience deeply moved and inspired to act.
Professor Eric Morser of the history department introduced Gibbs. He started off the talk with an activist tone, encouraging students to live through deeds and not only words. "Think of yourselves as citizens of the community," Morser said.
Lois Gibbs spoke to the audience directly, drawing them in as she told her personal, heart-wrenching story of how, in 1978, she became involved in fighting for environmental justice with the infamous Love Canal chemical and health disaster in Niagara Falls.
After the catastrophe, Gibbs' young children became sick with illnesses such as epilepsy, asthma and urinary track infections. After Niagara Falls Gazette reporter Michael Brown wrote an article about the toxic waste dump site in town, Gibbs realized that the chemicals in the water were to blame. In 1953, a piece of land with 20,000 tons of toxic waist was sold to the Niagara Falls School Board for $1 and was disregarded.
"How dare they! How dare they made a decision about my little girl or boy living or dying!" Gibbs yelled. The current trends in hydrofracking mirror the serious reality of water poisoning in Niagara Falls.
"These close-to-home painful situations are the ways we will find out about fracking. They knew they were being poisoned," Gibbs said.
Lois went on to explain the finer points of hydrofracking. To extract natural gas from shale below the earth's surface, companies drill a vertical well that turns horizontal as it hits the shale. A mixture of water and chemicals (companies are not obligated and therefore do not disclose all information about which chemicals are used) is pumped down the well to break out the methane bubbles from the shale. The gas companies do not remove all of the water and chemicals — at least 30 percent is left in the ground, poisoning the water and the land.
"Hydrofracking is supposed to be the solution to climate change, but methane is the second most potent greenhouse gas," Gibbs said. She also explains that fracking does not help the U.S. with energy independence, as we are sending most of the hydrofracked natural gas abroad, often to Asia.
Gibbs did not shy away from calling this a political battle. "New York City, Syracuse and Buffalo's watersheds are frack free. That's where the New York State votes are, that's where they decide not to poison," Gibbs said.
Gibbs encouraged the audience to continually ask New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo about fracking. "Make it politically right for the politician to do the right thing." Gibbs ended by crying out, "Let's go out an kick some butt, because that is what it takes."
During the Q&A period, Gibbs gave some tips on organizing and getting people to care about the issue. She told the audience to ask others what they cared about, and then use it toward the environmental organization. She emphasized the power of youth, campus movements and the importance of supporting each other's initiatives.
Students reacted to the talk with both criticism and sympathy. "I was hoping the lecture would have had a little more information on the specifics of hydrofracking, but that information is pretty accessible online, so I see where she's coming from," said Andrew Lloyd '12. "I think it's awesome that the school was able to bring a speaker with such an impressive resume. If nothing else, this lecture inspired me to go out and find out more about the hydrofracking question."
Organizations that are currently fighting against fracking include Frack Action, Capital District Against Fracking, Water Equality and Environmental Advocates of New York. Anyone can become part of the anti-fracking movement. "Once fracking poisons the water, it is a disaster," Gibbs said.