Appalachian Basin

Artists Against Fracking? No, Artists Looking for Relevance Part 2

This week, we’ve been looking at the group “Artists Against Fracking” and their misinformation campaign to stop natural gas development in New York. Part I delved into a recent radio campaign by Michelle Williams, and for Part II we’ll be looking at co-founder, Sean Lennon’s, recent opinion piece in the New York Times. So, let’s just take a few moments to Imagine if all these artists took the time to do some real research on natural gas development.

Sean Lennon: What’s In a Name?

Sean Lennon isn’t really an artist we knew too much about prior to he and his mother, Yoko Ono, creating this group. So, before we started analyzing what he wrote, we figured we had better get a feel for the man behind the words. And, what better place to start for a struggling singer than on YouTube?  His last solo album, Friendly Fire, was released in 2006 and ranks #32,137 in music on Amazon.  So really it shouldn’t be a surprise he’s using an anti-natural gas agenda to promote himself.  It reminds us a bit of his Occupy pal Josh Fox, about whom the Playgoer blog asked; “what does a downtown director have to do to get on national TV?  Make an HBO muckraking documentary, of course!.”

Constitution Pipeline Brings the Celebrities Out of the Woodwork

As Sean lays out in his opening paragraph, Yoko Ono and John Lennon, purchased a farm in Delaware County, New York, which Ono still owns today. It has been a second home for the family to escape Long Island. The mother and son decided to get involved in the anti-natural gas movement when Williams and Cabot Oil and Gas began plans for the Constitution Pipeline which could potentially run across their property.

A few months ago I was asked by a neighbor near our farm to attend a town meeting at the local high school. Some gas companies at the meeting were trying very hard to sell us on a plan to tear through our wilderness and make room for a new pipeline: infrastructure for hydraulic fracturing. Most of the residents at the meeting, many of them organic farmers, were openly defiant. The gas companies didn’t seem to care. They gave us the feeling that whether we liked it or not, they were going to fracture our little town.

This statement is riddled with misinformation so let’s take it piece by piece. First, the Constitution Pipeline is not infrastructure for hydraulic fracturing. It is a transmission pipeline, which will be connecting two existing pipelines, one of which is the Iroquois, which delivers natural gas to New York City. .

The need for this abundant, affordable fuel source is only going to become greater in New York City, as Mayor’s Bloomberg’s NYC Clean Heat initiative kicks off with natural gas as one option for the building upgrades. The city is already one of the top consumers of natural gas in the country with its increasing use of CNG vehicles for personal and public transportation. Even the Staten Island Ferry will soon run on natural gas. So, this pipeline is a means to fuel an ever growing and demanding market.

Williams and Cabot are in the beginning phases of planning this pipeline and obtaining permits, but have held several meetings across New York and Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, and have made it very clear they will be continuing to maintain open lines of communication with landowners throughout the negotiation process. This is a far cry from “not caring” or “fracturing” a community.

Amateur Dairy Farming Versus Actually Dairy Farming

In the late ’70s, when Manhattanites like Andy Warhol and Bianca Jagger were turning Montauk and East Hampton into an epicurean Shangri-La for the Studio 54 crowd, my parents, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, were looking to become amateur dairy farmers. My first introduction to a cow was being taught how to milk it by hand. I’ll never forget the realization that fresh milk could be so much sweeter than what we bought in grocery stores.

I bet the real dairy farmers of Upstate–the ones who rarely get to enjoy the fruits of their labors because dairy prices just keep falling–share Lennon’s sentiment about the beauty of teaching their children the family business and the sweetness of fresh milk. That said, most of them do not have the same financial means as the Lennon’s and the reality of not having a family business, or the land they have worked and cared for over generations, is becoming more and more a possibility. Lisa Robinson, a hardworking dairy farmer from Steuben County is one such example:

Natural gas development would provide the security of knowing that much needed repairs and replacement of old equipment would not only make it more efficient to run the farm, it would also give the security of knowing the revenue is going back to the community in which we live and call home.  This place we call home has been in our family since 1947 and we are anything but secure right now in our knowledge of it’s fate.

For dairy farmers as a whole it can provide the security to know we will be able to operate our farm more efficiently, since those in charge have mysteriously forgotten how much it costs to produce 100 pounds of milk for the average farm here in New York which has 113 cows.  The average cost to produce 100 pounds of milk is between $30.00 and $40.00 and the farmers only get paid between $16.00 and $23.00.  At those prices, it’s hard to keep your head above water.

Many have already lost their livelihoods, the children have moved elsewhere to find sustainable livings, and the number of dairy farmers in New York has steadily declined. Here’s another quote, this one from Robinson’s testimony at last year’s SGEIS hearing in Danville.

Since 2009, dairy farmers across the country have been struggling to survive. For many years, New York was ranked third in the U.S. as one of the highest milk producing states. As of 2011, New York has lost that ranking. In 2009, there were 5,480 licensed dairy farms in the state of New York. In 2010 that number dropped to 5,380. Across the country there was a total loss of 1,805 dairy farms. This number is even greater when you look at the difference between 1992 and 2010. In 1992, there were a total of 131,509 dairy farms and in 2010 that number dropped to 53,127. That is a total loss of 78,382 dairy farms. It has been stated since 2009 that we are in a dairy crisis.

So, Sean, we invite you to look beyond your childhood memories of “amateur” dairy farming and open your eyes to the reality of this professional endeavor in New York, because Robinson’s story is only one of many.

Visiting Delaware County Versus Living There

Although I was rarely able to persuade my schoolmates to leave Long Island for what seemed to them an unreasonably rural escapade, I was lucky enough to experience trout fishing instead of tennis lessons, swimming holes instead of swimming pools and campfires instead of cable television. 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.

New York is lucky enough to have some of the best drinking water in the world. The well water on my family’s farm comes from the same watersheds that supply all the reservoirs in New York State. That means if our tap water gets dirty, so does New York City’s.

Ah yes, Delaware County. Again, there is a difference between visiting an area and struggling to survive there. Lennon is right, Delaware County is home to the New York City watershed and the Cannonsville Reservoir. Hazel Brandt’s, the first female police officer in Broome County, husband helped build the reservoir that would take away a tax base and destroy towns.

My husband and I were from Orange County, New York, about 65 miles north of New York City.  My husband was a Lead Engineer for Operating Engineers Local 825 out of Newark, New Jersey.  We moved to Deposit in 1960 for Bob to work on the Cannonsville Dam and Reservoir.

Before that started, one morning at 3 a.m. we went up to where Cannonsville used to be. Cemeteries had been moved.  All the homes, farms, churches and stores were smashed.  All of the buildings were burned. A whole town disappeared to build a reservoir to supply New York City residents with water. It was very sad to see and we cried as we witnessed it.

The people of Cannonsville gave up homes, land, and jobs so that New York City could have water.


Today, because of New York City’s unfiltered water system, the current draft of the rdSGEIS provides setbacks which will prevent many of the business and landowners in the county from being able to develop the minerals under their properties. Sandra Davis and her family are one of many left wondering what will happen in coming years if they can’t find a way to stimulate economic development in the county.

Why do these regulations impact my community so much, and more so than other communities in Upstate New York?  Because Delaware County is the home of the Cannonsville Reservoir.  This may sound like a nice thing to have nearby, but it comes with its own challenges and costs to our community.  When the reservoir was established in 1965 to supply New York City with drinking water they had to demolish several towns. This included moving nine cemeteries, all for New York City to have water, while Delaware County was left carrying the burden for making a living here.

Today we still feel the effects of the reservoir being placed here. We cannot use the reservoir for recreation without overcoming extreme hurdles because it flows to New York City unfiltered, so we receive none of the benefits of its intrusion on our community. We especially feel the pinch in property taxes, as the destruction of villages for its construction left a void in the tax base of the county.

Delaware County won’t be taking this injustice lying down, though. They will be asking New York City to compensate them for their losses this time around.

“We’re talking about about 33,000 acres,” said Frasier who added that if other restrictions are approved, as much as a quarter million acres or 80 percent of Delaware County would be off-limits to gas exploration. “That’s about $81 billion in gross sales,” said Frasier. “And those are not our numbers. Those are New York City’s and New York State’s numbers.”

So we have to ask, while Lennon is enjoying the beauty of Delaware County, what is he doing to help his neighbors survive?

Stay tuned for the second half of our analysis of Sean Lennon’s letter tomorrow…


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