Monday, October 31, 2011

The economic is political, and the political gets personal in Cooperstown

The New York Times featured another story about fracking yesterday, this one datelined Cooperstown, New York, home of the baseball hall of fame. That's right, not even picturesque Cooperstown has been left alone by energy exploration companies wishing to use this controversial technique to release natural gas from the Marcellus Shale. (Read a recent post on fracking in the Marcellus Shale here). The story's lede sets up the conflict between those who oppose the extraction and those who support it, with anecdotes illustrating the sometimes personal and vitriolic nature of the attacks on those who have openly taken positions, either pro or con:
The letter that arrived in Kim Jastremski’s mailbox on County Highway 52 suggested that she stop protesting the possibility of natural gas drilling. ...
Computer-generated, unsigned and sent to about 10 other opponents of a practice known as fracking, it compared them to Nazis and said they were being watched while picking up their children at school in their minivans.
Jennifer Huntington’s abuse is more public, like comments online suggesting that people find out where her dairy sells its milk so that they can stop buying it, or the warning that her farm, which has a lease with a gas company, “will fall like a house of cards when your water is poisoned.”
Huntington and others who support drilling have also been called "sellout landowners that prostitute themselves for money."

The intensity and personal nature of some of the attacks recounted is one striking part of the story, and it reminds me of this post a few weeks ago, which highlighted the very hurtful consequences when small town folks act under cover of anonymity on knowledge gained due to the lack of anonymity that is characteristic of small towns. Peter Applebome, reporting for the Times, notes that online information and communication have fueled the conflict.

Applebome also observes that the disputes often pit those who "live in suburbs or villages against the farmers and landowners who live outside them," which often equates to the more affluent versus those with less. Ms. Huntington, the dairy farmer with a gas lease on her land, highlights the economic challenges facing farmers as a reason for their openness to the drilling leases. Huntington uses the shocking term "pastoral poverty" to describe the economic situation facing farm enterprises like hers.
You have farmers trying to hold on to land that’s been in their family for 100 to 200 years. People like the landscape, but it’s people living in poverty who are maintaining what they like to look at.
Applebome closes the story by further emphasizing the underlying old-timer/newcomer aspect of the dispute, which often align along an industry/tourism divide. Those who support fracking, Applebome reports, "say the professionals and retirees drawn to the area have become antigrowth fanatics, opposing a once-a-year music festival proposed in nearby Springfield, wind turbines proposed for Cherry Valley, even additional Little League fields."

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