The Norman Transcript

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July 8, 2013

Fervent foes devote lives to fracking fight

VESTAL, N.Y. — 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 like 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 who lives across the border in hilly northeastern 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 like 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 are not 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 same opponents acknowledge that Rapp, Scroggins and others like them 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. “If they weren’t doing what they’re doing, we would have been through with this a long time ago. They’re wrong on the facts but they’re very loud and very vocal, and that gets noticed for political reasons.”

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