Unnatural Gas

Victoria Lesser Issue: Section:

“We need to remember why we moved here, whether it was 5 years ago or 5 generations”

My name is Victoria Lesser, I'm 61 years old and I live in Upstate New York in the tiny hamlet known as North Branch. It's in Sullivan County, the Catskill region that is approximately 120 miles from New York City. North Branch in days of old was a major grower of apples and also has been home to the many dairy farms that now surround the old country Inn I restored and now run, in addition to my design business. Choosing to live here amidst the trees, the mountains, the cows and the small town feel was in my mind a great idea. The Old North Branch Inn became the hub for the many second homeowners as well as those city transplants who also chose these hills as their home away from the other homes we once knew.We sat around the tables, drinking great coffee, eating local fare and just loving how grand life was up here. In spite of the sometimes tough winters and the struggle business owners face since the season is dependent upon weather, and other incidental situations that life hands us, we still loved our abodes.

So when the topic of Natural gas drilling came into our conversations and we heard about the supposed treasure beneath our feet called the Marcellus Shale, we at first didn't comprehend what this could mean for us. It happened so quickly that there are many who still don't know what it's all about and what we can do to protect the life we love from becoming the nightmare we were learning others just across the river from us are now living. If those reading this have not yet seen the movie "Gasland" by Josh Fox, which aired on HBO and can still be seen on HBO on demand then stop what you're doing and see this film. If HBO is not on your screen then at least google "Gaslandthemovie.com" and watch how people in Pa., as well as the many states where the natural gas industry has begun the process known as Hydrofracking, are lighting their tap water on fire. Know about the illnesses, the contamination, the upheaval of people’s lives with no protection whatsoever. And all this is now slated to begin in Upstate New York. The same Upstate New York that supplies NY City with its water, the place where the largest unfiltered water system is located, the place where your food is grown, the place your milk is produced. And also know that since the farmers that hold the largest tracts of land, the land that the gas companies need to set up their devastating business practices, are suffering so and in spite of how they have for generations  been the stewards of this land, they are now being  led to believe that the only way they can hold on to their farms is to lease to the gas companies. With all this in mind I share with you a letter I have written telling yet another part of our story. We need the folks of NY City to awaken to how close all of this is to you and we need your help. We need to get our legislators to pass bills that will protect our drinking water, our health, our air, our lives. We need to realize that if we don't help our farmers our food will no longer come from our backyards, our water will no longer be something New Yorkers have always been able to boast about, great tasting water, it's the water that makes NY city bagels the best. So know this, speak of this, pass this on...together we can make a difference.

Each week my neighbors and I see letters to the editor in our local papers that are either for gas drilling or against it. There is the group of landowners who want to Drill Now, not wait until the science is in, the group that is willing to take the chance that what has happened elsewhere will not happen here. Then, in opposition there are those of us that ask to at least wait until we can know that what has happened elsewhere will Not happen here.  Being one that has written numerous letters asking for the latter and having read the many that say drill now I have made some notes as to the difference in our voices. Those that say now and refuse to let the science precede the drilling and are willing to take the chance with our most precious commodity, our health and clean drinking water, repeatedly use the words "I", I want it now, I deserve to make a profit with my land, I need the money, I am struggling etc. Yet those from the same community, the same people who have paid their full share of taxes, have shopped in our markets, have loved this place with the same fervor and passion as those who have been here for generations, are starting their sentences of opposition with 'We", We are afraid of what it is going to do to our health, We are concerned about what it is going to do to our infrastructure, We want our children to have safe drinking water, We want to protect our community from what we have seen the gas industry do to other places just next door. One of the things that makes a 12 step program work is that when an addict or an alcoholic hits their bottom and they enter a recovery meeting with their disease of self centeredness,  believing no one else understands the pain they are in, feeling so desperate that they actually pollute their body and spirit to such a degree that death can almost be welcomed, they are greeted by others who do understand and they are welcomed with words of "We" are glad you are here, "We" will help you, "We" will not let you fall. With this in mind please know that we are so aware of the troubles facing our farmers and a great group is working together, wanting to get behind these farmers so that they can keep farming rather than start mining. One thing I also wonder about is this, What if our elected officials do get the message being sent loud and clear, that they have been elected to protect the well being of our entire community rather than helping the big corporations just get richer at our expense? What if the gas drilling does not come to Sullivan county? What if we awaken enough people to how devastating hydrofracking will be to all our lives and we get it to stop? What will all the landowners, all the farmers who are desperate enough to take such a chance with the health and well being of all their neighbors, their families, their land and all the inhabitants that call Sullivan County home do then? We the people of Sullivan county, we who are your neighbors, we who are your friends want to open up the discussion. We need to be a small town with an open mind rather than a small town with a small mind. We need to remember why we moved here, whether it was 5 years ago or 5 generations. Together we need to at least be responsible enough, kind enough, smart enough to know that if we don't proceed with caution the damage that can occur will be irreversible. At what point will we choose our humanity over the holy dollar? If I came to any of you now who are bent on drilling before the science is in with a check that matches your supposed signing bonus, requesting the right to purchase the health of your child would you sell it to me? If not, will you be willing to tell your children, when they ask you where you got all that money from that you sold the health of all the children of Sullivan County...Will you?


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