In a gesture worthy of the outspoken John Lennon, their late father and husband, musician Sean Lennon and artist-activist Yoko Ono, held a news conference late last month to inaugurate Artists Against Fracking. Sean Lennon also contributed a thoughtful op-ed in the New York Times about the new group in which he details his family’s lifelong concern with the environment. Lennon draws on memories of skipping stones in the Susquehanna with his father, trout fishing, watching bald eagles in the pines, and savoring the joy of nature in the taste of honey and raspberries.
“Though my father died when I was 5, I have always felt lucky to live on land he loved dearly; land in an area that is now on the verge of being destroyed,” Lennon wrote.
When they found out some of the disturbing aspects of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas (“fracking”), Sean and his mother Yoko Ono—an avant garde voice since before her marriage to the most outspoken Beatle—organized a group of almost 200 artists, musicians, and filmmakers to protest the practice.
Natural gas fracking has been heralded by many, including both President Obama and Mitt Romney, as a way out of America’s increasing energy shortfall, a “clean” power source, a job creator (mostly in the construction phase of development), and a major step toward energy independence for the United States.
“Few people are aware that America’s Natural Gas Alliance has spent $80 million in a publicity campaign that includes the services of Hill and Knowlton—the public relations firm that through most of the ’50s and ’60s told America that tobacco had no verifiable links to cancer,” Sean Lennon said.
“Natural gas is clean, and cigarettes are healthy—talk about disinformation. To try to counteract this, my mother and I have started a group called Artists Against Fracking.” Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney, and 30 Rock’s Alec Baldwin are also founding members of the cause. The group previewed their announcement on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
The process of fracking involves shooting millions of gallons of chemically treated water thousands of feet deep underground to crack open ancient–and gas-rich–shale rock deposits. The gas comes up, tainted water stays down or is pumped elsewhere.
New York State governor Marco Cuomo and the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation have been considering permits for the controversial natural gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale formation near the state’s border with Pennsylvania. The Marcellus Shale also underlies parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia, some already being mined.
“Inevitably, the process leads to the release of toxic chemicals—many of which are unknown and unreported—into our air and water,” Lennon, Ono, and others told Cuomo. “It is a direct public health threat to families and communities.”
Professor Anthony Ingraffea, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Cornell University who worked with the oil and gas industry for over 30 years (and one of Time‘s “People Who Mattered” in 2011), commented at the organization’s launch, “Fracking is not the major cause of drinking water loss. It’s the [initial] drilling, the cementing, and the casing of the wells that are causing most of the problems with contamination of drinking water supplies.” Ingraffea has said that that the fracking industry itself expects an initial 5% failure rate for its wells. The rate will increase as the wells age.
With respect to air quality, the Environmental Protection Agency has found the natural gas industry to be the greatest source of U.S. methane emissions in 1990, 2000, and every year between 2005 and 2009. Methane is an especially powerful greenhouse gas.
Last week, one environmental group prepared a full-page ad for The Charlotte [North Carolina] Observer to bring the issue up front at the Democratic National Convention.
The Republican Party stands behind a no-holds-barred “Drill, baby, drill” philosophy with respect to fracking natural gas. Democrats are divided on the issue, with President Obama taking the middle road by favoring an “all of the above” strategy to allow the nation to phase in less damaging power sources, notably renewable energy, and to make an immediate impact on the forces that are causing climate change.
The Times quotes former President Bill Clinton as approving the all-of-the-above approach: “The boom in oil and gas production, combined with energy efficiency, has driven oil imports to a nearly 20-year low and natural gas production to an all-time high. And renewable energy production has doubled.”
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