At about 11:00 AM Saturday morning, over one hundred and fifty people arrived at the gates of the Schlumberger industrial facility in Horseheads, NY. Most were from New York’s Southern Tier, some from as nearby as the town where the facility is located, and some from as far away as Pennsylvania. Among their numbers were children, grandparents, college students, and working people of all kinds. Some hailed from villages and countryside across the Southern Tier, others small Upstate cities and towns. That day, they all had a common purpose: to defend their communities, land, and water from hydro-fracking. And they did so in a way New York State has not yet seen – direct action, at the gates of the gas industry.
Organized by the Shaleshock Direct Action Working Group, Saturday’s action had a goal to shut down the Horseheads facility. Direct action involves people using their bodies in a literal rather than symbolic act of resistance. For Shaleshock organizers, this meant direct confrontation with industry, obstructing fracking-related processes from taking place at the Schlumberger facility.
Schlumberger has refused to disclose the fracking chemicals that are stored at the $30 million Horseheads facility. This is not required by law due to the Halliburton Loopholes, a 2005 Bush/Cheney energy bill exempting natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act which mandates companies to disclose chemicals used during extraction.
With a revenue of $39.54 billion and operations in 85 countries, Schlumberger is the world’s largest oilfield services company. Schlumberger’s history is one fraught with offenses all over the world, from environmental catastrophes to Department of Justice investigations for millions of dollars in bribes to foreign officials. One violation occurred in 2009 when 295-gallons of hydrochloric acid spilled at the Chesapeake’s Chancellor fracking well site in Asylum Township, Bradford County.
Ruth Young, 75, of Horseheads, told the crowd, “Schumberger is blowing silica dust into the lungs of children in the elementary school, blowing silica dust into the lungs of people in the residences to the north and east…They store their chemicals here, they wash their vehicles here, they spill their silica dust all over the place here. Their workers are not dressed properly for working with toxic materials. Where was the DEC while this atrocity is going on? Protecting us? I don’t think so.”
At the demonstration on Saturday, twenty people planned to risk arrest. The group practiced linking arms in front of the gates to blockade, while the rest of the participants stood by as support. Because Schlumberger is a 24/7 facility, it became evident that the first shift of the day was cancelled due to the demonstration. Though police were present throughout the day, no arrests were made and relations remained friendly. Protesters left the facility at around 4:30 PM of their own volition, vowing to continue direct confrontations with the fracking industry. Many participants expressed a newfound willingness to risk arrest blockading fracking facilities in the future.
Organizers and participants alike consider the action to be a success. “We shut the facility down for nearly six hours and no arrests were made. We achieved our goal and no one is behind bars,” said Sam Law, one of the organizers. Law added that the action was part of an escalation campaign, with many more direct actions to follow. “The politicians can take the lead from us. We don’t need permission to protect our community,” Law said.
Hydraulic fracturing (fracking), is a process of natural gas extraction whereby hundreds of gallons of “frack fluid”, a mixture of water, sand and dozens of toxic chemicals, are pumped into the ground to release gas from pockets in shale rock. The Marcellus Shale, stretching through New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, is the largest shale formation in the United States, and one which industry is eager to tap. Residents of Pennsylvania, where fracking has already begun, report a variety of symptoms of illness relating to contaminated drinking water, not to mention the hazards of heavy truck traffic and air pollution from facilities. Several Pennsylvanians spoke at the rally on Saturday, sharing stories of the impact fracking has had on their lives.
For New York, where fracking has not yet been permitted, today marks the first action directly confronting the fracking industry. Other efforts have included the passing of over 70 town bans throughout the state, and demonstrations in Albany. Despite these efforts, Governor Andrew Cuomo has released statements saying he will move forward to begin fracking in five counties this fall, if not sooner. Some Southern Tier residents have already reported hearing noises in the night: fracking infrastructure being built, ready for implementation.
And Schlumberger is currently operating at fracking wells in Pennsylvania, with the Horseheads facility providing services and materials. This action was explicitly about solidarity with neighbors across the Marcellus shale formation, according to organizers. New coalitions of activists have formed since the discovery of the Marcellus, coalitions which overlook state borders. Signs and chants at the Schlumberger protest made sentiments of these alliances known, repeating the phrase, “No sacrifice zones.”
This action fostered comradery not only across the Marcellus, but among communities resisting resource extraction across the country. As part of what has come to be known as the Summer of Solidarity, organizers of the Schlumberger action have among their goals to “normalize and propagate direct action and a culture of resistance. People have the right and responsibility to defend their communities from profiteering extractive industries.” Organizers hope the Schlumberger action empowers people to organize and take action as part of a widespread national uprising against extractive industries. Other summer actions include the shut down of the Hobet mountaintop removal coal mine, organized by the RAMPS campaign in West Virginia; the Texas Keystone convergence targeting the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline in Texas; and the first blockade of a fracking well in the United States. August 20th is the culmination of the Coal Export Action’s multi-day sit-in at the Montana State Capitol.