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News Analysis: fracking in Cochecton; divisiveness is ‘heartbreaking’

By Steven Brennan
October 24, 2012

Fracking is already thriving in Sullivan County. Not the same controversial natural gas extraction method that makes headlines. No, this is community fracking, the social byproduct of the hydraulic fracturing debate, pumping tension through Sullivan County communities that face the possibility of gas wells dotting their landscape.

At a public meeting on October 17 to discuss fracking in Cochecton, it was clear that community fracking is flourishing. “It’s tragic to see what this issue is doing to this community,” said Robin McClernon. Farmer John Gorzynski declared from the podium, “To see the divisiveness that this has caused is heartbreaking for me.”

The layers of the issue are similar to the layers of the earth. The fracking blade first cuts through the crust, for our purposes the federal government. Both presidential candidates support natural gas extraction, with President Obama boasting, “We still continue to open up new areas for drilling. We continue to make it a priority for us to go after natural gas. We’ve got potentially 600,000 jobs and a hundred years’ worth of energy right beneath our feet with natural gas.”

As the blade cuts deeper into the mantle, the issue gets passed to the state and the office of Governor Cuomo. Cuomo is awaiting Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) regulations and a health impact study before making a decision about fracking. Arguably, this is the level that has the greatest impact on the future of the region. At the center, like the earth, is the core, made up of tightly-knit communities whose residents now argue, put signs on their lawns and utilize social media to plead their case. The core nucleus is a hard-fast group of concerned residents who have made up their minds.

The passion, and the science surrounding the issue, is as diverse as the small town itself, where fifth-generation farmers share property lines with second-home freelance writers. Gorzynski, who bought his farm in 1979, walked stiffly to the podium after a long day in his fields planting garlic. “If there’s a safe way to do this, I’m a land owner, I’d love to make a couple bucks the easy way. I’ve worked hard in my life.” But his livelihood is on the line, he says, whether fracking proves toxic or not. “Customers at my market in New York City weekly ask me if they have allowed fracking yet in our area. They won’t be customers of mine anymore when it’s approved.”