Binghamton University students and community members took a stance against hydraulic fracturing at a campus event Monday night.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a method of drilling for natural gas, was first commercialized in 1949, according to Walter Hang. Hang, who spoke at the event, is the owner of Toxics Targeting, a website which maps toxic sites throughout New York State.
The event also featured a panel that included Mark Ruffalo, an actor recently seen in ‘Date Night’ and ‘Shutter Island;’ Julia Walsh, an activist for Frack Action; and Adam Flint, a representative of Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition (BRSC) and an adjunct lecturer at BU.
Hundreds of people gathered at 7 p.m. in the Mandela Room of the Old University Union to learn about fracking and how they can organize to prevent it in New York.
‘We have to come together as a community to figure out how we’re going to move forward,’ Walsh said. ‘We have to step up and stand firm and tall to battle the industry and not let them set a foot on our land.’
According to Walsh, one of the main purposes of the event was to get young people to register to vote. A follow-up to the event will include a voter registration drive starting next week.
According to Ruffalo, New York Congressional candidates in favor of drilling have received $400,000 from gas companies in the past few months.
Ruffalo stressed the importance of coming to a university as a means to get young people involved.
‘You put Obama in the White House,’ Ruffalo said. ‘I really do think it was because of young people, you did change the course of history.’
According to Flint, this is the first public event of any kind on this campus regarding the issue of fracking.
He said that although it can be a depressing issue, there are some issues that require further investigation, such as how the process affects drinking water.
While one girl took the microphone and admitted her initial attendance was due to Mark Ruffalo’s appearance, she also indicated that she has taken away a lot of new information.
Other students that came because they were interested in the subject may have ended up leaving with new insight as well.
Matt Potel, a junior majoring in environmental studies and president of the BU Outdoors Club, said he and his organization plan to get people to register to vote for the upcoming elections. He eventually hopes to get someone in a Congressional seat that will represent them.
‘I knew a lot of the information about hydrofracturing but I think that [Walsh] kind of instilled in me and the crowd a sense of rebellion against this concept,’ Potel said. ‘We’re in control of what happens to our water and our land.’
Supporters of hydraulic fracturing say that nationally the industry supports 2.8 million jobs and $385 billion in economic activity. The Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York sees fracking as a ticket to economic prosperity. They maintain that hydraulic fracturing could change the U.S. energy landscape by creating jobs, advancing the economy and decreasing the U.S. dependence on foreign sources of energy, according to their website.
But instead of halting the process entirely, Ruffalo suggests waiting until more tests are complete.
‘Everywhere I’ve gone that has had this kind of gas extraction done has resulted in poisonous waters, increased asthma in young people due to poor air quality and there’s been a lot of incidences of neurological damage. I’m not so much anti-fracking as I am pro-scientific study of hydro-fracking,’ Ruffalo said.
Ruffalo, a resident of Sullivan County on the Delaware River, is raising three kids in the area.
‘This is not my little pet project, this is my life,’ Ruffalo said. ‘I had this crazy idea of leaving this place to my kids one day. What really pushed me over the edge was going to Dimock, Penn., and seeing how desperate these people were to have someone speak up for them. I felt like I had to do it.’
The event was part of a larger effort of Binghamton University advocacy groups.
Several groups have joined together to create an unofficial group called Binghamton Environmental to collaborate on a variety of ecological issues, including hydraulic fracturing.
The groups joining together in BE are the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), The Campus Climate Challenge, the Experimental Media Organization/Student Action Collective (EMO/SAC) and the Student Environmental Action Collective (SEAC).
According to David Frey, president of EMO/SAC, each of these groups has been working in its own realms rather than together on common issues about the environment and came together to put on yesterday’s event.
‘[We're] trying to bring all those people together,’ Frey said. ‘We belong to it [the environment] as much as it belongs to us.’
BE’s current goal is to increase awareness on the issue of hydraulic fracturing, according to Hyo Kim, a senior majoring in environmental chemistry. The objective is to make students conscious of what the issues of fracking are and to then discuss what the best choice of action is for the various groups.
Kim, the co-environmental coordinator of NYPIRG, echoed Frey’s comments.
‘We got together to talk about issues we could collaborate on because this campus is huge and we probably need as many people as we can get.’
‘ Aaron Axelson and Sophia Rosenbaum contributed to this report.