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Why You Don't Frack With John Lennon's Farm

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"Governor Cuomo: ImaGIne There's no FraCkInG," read a billboard on the Major Deegan Expressway into Manhattan last October. One of the motorists who saw it may well have been Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has been under increasing pressure from New York state residents to ban the shale gas extraction method known as "fracking." The billboard was the first action by Yoko Ono and her son Sean Lennon's advocacy coalition Artists Against Fracking, which boasts nearly 200 famous members ranging from Salman Rushdie to Lady Gaga.

What spurred mother and son to organize artists like themselves was the threat to their Delaware County farm that sits atop the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation geologists estimate holds trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. "I have always felt lucky," Lennon wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times, "to live on land [my father] loved dearly." Sean Lennon's father was, of course, the legendary musician and former Beatle John Lennon, not the first city resident to want a rural escape.

Sean Lennon's education about fracking began with gas companies' pitches at a local high school in spring 2012. "[They] were trying very hard to sell us," he wrote, "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." Lennon did his homework, and is now a well-informed opponent of fracking-like actors Mark Ruffalo, Debra Winger, Melissa Leo, and other public personalities who have lent star power to this critical environmental issue for the Empire State.  

State writes its own guidelines Concerns about the environmental and public health effects of high-volume horizontal gas drilling have kept a moratorium on fracking in New York since 2008. That's the year the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), under then-Governor David Paterson, began to update permitting guidelines for this new technology through its Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement. In 2012, physicians, scientists, and medical groups appealed to Cuomo to do a comprehensive health impact assessment of fracking. Instead, the DEC commissioner asked the state health commissioner and a trio of out-of-state experts for advice. As of December 2012, their analysis of DEC guidelines was still under review. 


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