Big energy companies have been trying for five years to tap the riches of the Marcellus Shale in southern New York, promising thousands of new jobs, economic salvation for a depressed region, and a cheap, abundant, clean-burning source of fuel close to power-hungry cities. But for all its political clout and financial prowess, the industry hasn’t been able to get its foot in the door.
One reason: Folks such as Sue Rapp and Vera Scroggins are standing in the way.
Rapp, a family counselor in the Broome County town of Vestal, in the prime shale-gas region near the Pennsylvania border, is intense and unrelenting in pressing her petitions. Scroggins — a retiree and grandmother across the border in northwestern Pennsylvania, where intensive gas development has been going on for five years — is gleefully confrontational. She happily posts videos of her skirmishes.
The anti-fracking movement has inspired a legion of people such as Rapp and Scroggins— idiosyncratic true believers, many of them middle-aged women, who have made it the central mission of their lives to stop gas drilling using high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus region that underlies southern New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.
They aren’t necessarily popular; they have been shunned by former friends who support drilling and the economic benefits it brings. Their opponents accuse them of distorting the truth about fracking’s impacts by insisting that their communities and surrounding countryside will be transformed into a polluted industrial wasteland if natural-gas interests have their way.
But many of those opponents acknowledge that Rapp, Scroggins and others have been effective.
“There’s no denying that their actions have had an impact,” said Jim Smith, spokesman for the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York.
While Rapp and Scroggins are among the more visible of the grass-roots fracking foes, their motivations and personal styles are different.
Rapp is a leader in the so-called “home rule” movement, which has led more than 100 communities to enact bans or moratoriums against fracking. The gas industry has challenged the legality of such bans but has lost two cases that it plans to appeal to the state’s highest court.
Rapp devotes her free time to organizing letter-writing campaigns to the governor, gathering signatures on petitions and trying to get her town board to enact a fracking ban or pass road-use laws aimed at the convoys of water and gravel trucks heading for Pennsylvania’s drilling sites.
Scroggins relishes the label of activist. She’s a scrappy, in-your-face videographer and self- appointed guide to the gas patch of northeastern Pennsylvania. She has given tours to state and local politicians, community groups and anti-fracking celebrities such as Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon and Susan Sarandon. Several days a week, she drives people around to show them drilling sites, pipelines, compressor stations and truck-worn roads. She introduces them to residents who believe their well water was ruined by drilling operations. She records the tours on video. She also records town board meetings, often raising the ire of people who’d rather not be in the videos she posts online by the hundreds.