Washington - "Stop the Frack Attack" was the clear message sent by some 5,000 protesters at the first national demonstration against hydraulic fracturing held in front of the Capitol Building July 28. Under a blistering hot sun the "fractivists," as they are known, from 30 states and Australia demanded an end to the new process for deep shale gas exploitation that harms public health, water, and air.
"Tour de Frack" bicycle riders rode in from Pennsylvania. Busses came from Ohio and New York bringing demonstrators with colorful costumes and clever placards. They gathered on the Capitol lawn amid large red, white, and black derricks emblazoned with the words "Fracking Burns Our Health." Speakers from many religious traditions offered prayers to put people before profits and to be good stewards of the earth.
"We are an interconnected web of existence" was the message.
Speakers highlighted the struggle in New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo is soon to decide on a permanent ban on fracking for his state. Others urged adherence to the "Precautionary Principle" the U.S. signed at the 1992 "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro, which places the burden of proving a process safe on industry, rather than on the public.
As demonstrators chanted "O-H-I-O - Hydraulic Fracking's Got to Go," Carrie Matsko of that state told of becoming ill as a result of hydrogen-sulfide fumes from a drill site near her home. She called for greater regulation and accountability of the oil and gas industry.
Mike Tidwell, of Wyoming, pointed to the extreme weather conditions of the past two years as a result of climate change. Doug Shields, former city councilman from Pittsburgh explained how that city banned fracking and urged other local officials to do the same.
Laura Amos, an adrenal cancer survivor from Garfield County, CO, denounced the industry for spending billions on public Relations firms and lawyers in order to mislead the American people.
"We as citizens are afraid for our health and communities," she said. "Gas and oil are not good neighbors. Fracking is not safe and the gas and oil industry is not welcome."
"Policy change saves more lives than being a medical doctor," said physician Katherine Tomason. "All of us are gathered because of corporate greed and control of our electoral process." Alice Chen of the Sierra Club urged moving beyond all fossil fuels. The rhetoric of the natural gas and oil industry, she said, does not hide their goal of profits for the top 1% instead of public health.
Josh Fox, maker of the documentary, "Gasland," carried an ominous looking jug of "Pennsylvania frack water" and suggested that fracking advocate T. Boone Pickens had secretly inserted a derrick inside the Washington Monument to inject billions of dollars inside the walls of Congress and buy our government. Three quarters of a million dollars bought the industry an exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act, he said. This "earthquake of money blows the top off of our democracy."
Bill McKibben, Vermont author, and founder of 350.org, a group opposing climate change, called for the kind of direct action shown by the people in West Virginia who shut down a mountain top removal site, by those in Texas who blocked the Keystone Pipeline, and by activists in the Pacific Northwest who blocked coal ports to Asia. He blamed climate change for the devastating rise in grain prices this year that will cause many to go hungry.
Urging a fight to keep the planet viable, he noted that, while Greenland is melting, Exxon reports profits of $415 billion in just the last quarter.
"We must go to the heart and fight the center of the industry - take away their money," he said. "It's the only damn thing they care about."
After the rally the "fractivists" marched through the streets to demonstrate at the national office of the Oil and Gas Association of America.
Photo: Loretta & Rick Roberson/PW