Commemorating the anniversary of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, the event that catalyzed the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, more than 30 students gathered on Ho Plaza Wednesday afternoon to rally against the process of hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as “fracking,” in the state of New York.
Donning green hard hats, student protesters held up signs reading “Don’t Frack with NY” and “One Year Later, BP Pay Up.” Others doused themselves in chocolate syrup to represent the spilled oil that devastated the Gulf Coast.
While Cornell students congregated on Ho Plaza, a similar contingent of students protested fracking in Washington Square in New York City. Both rallies coincided with the third annual Power Shift conference, an environmental conference that took place in Washington, D.C., from Friday to Monday. 106 Cornell students, many of whom attended the rally on Ho Plaza, had recently returned to Ithaca after attending the conference. In Washington, Cornellians joined 10,000 students and young people from across the country to learn how “to be on the front lines in the fight for a clean energy future,” according to Power Shift 2011’s website.
According to Reed Steberger ’11, one distinction between the most recent Power Shift conference and past years’ was the focus on organizing.
“We went through two days of movement building training, organizer training,” Steberger said. Participants learned the principles of grassroots organization and ways to coordinate campaigns with other college campuses — as exhibited with the corresponding Ho Plaza and Washington Square rallies, he said.
“All of these students are feeling this … overwhelming sense of momentum and purpose,” Steberger said. “We know that we have the real ability, and not just the motivation, to make changes in New York state.”
In the middle of the students wielding signs, stood a group of students holding a banner that read “Talkin’ Bout Our Generation.”
“This is our movement,” K.C. Alvey ’12, co-president of the Sustainability Hub, told the crowd.
Steberger warned the crowd about the dangers that fracking has already caused. The process of removing natural gas embedded in shale has contaminated watershed and poisoned drinking water, he contended.
Fracking has “pockmarked, devastated, and ravished” the environment in many communities already, Steberger said. “We are not going to let that happen here,” he said.
Those who spoke at the rally repeatedly emphasized that the BP oil spill represented a missed opportunity to move away from dangerous sources of energy, like oil and coal, and pursue clean energy.
“We’re talking about the need for clean energy. We’re talking about finding real solutions,” Steberger said. “Everyone who was at that rally today understands that this is a movement against fracking only in so far as we are pushing for cleaner solutions, for energy efficiency, for greater investment in clean energy.”
Bringing the focus back to campus, Alex Bores ’13 described Cornell’s plan to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. The University will no longer use coal to power its campus, he reminded the crowd.
“Sooner or later, hydrofracking will come to our doorstep. ... Let's show them we’re not afraid,” said Augie Williams ’14, who participated in the rally.
Ren Ostry, a student at Ithaca College, also stressed the importance of concentrating on the issue of fracking locally. She hoped Ithaca’s place at the forefront of the anti-fracking movement could serve as an example for the rest of the country, she said.
Steberger referred to research conducted by Prof. Robert Howarth, ecology and environmental biology, along with Prof. Anthony Ingraffea, civil and environmental engineering, and Renee Santoro, a research technician in ecology and evolutionary biology, in which they concluded that natural gas may harm the climate more than coal does. Steberger dismissed natural gas’ capacity for bettering the economy — he argued that the jobs created as a result of fracking are transient, and the economic benefits are short-lived.
Although holding the rally on the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion was intentional, Steberger revealed additional “terrible irony” about the date of the event. The night before the rally, there was a blowout in a gas well that was being fracked, he said. The blowout occurred in Bradford County, Pa. spewing fracking fluids into the environment and necessitating the evacuation of several nearby families, according to The Morning Call, a local Pennsylvania newspaper.
“It’s a year after the BP oil spill and we’re still seeing these kinds of problems, we’re still pursuing these fuel sources … that are dangerous in so many ways,” Steberger said.