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Haudenosaunee Meets NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner

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Haudenosaunee Meets NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner

By Wendy Gonyea
Onondaga Nation

A delegation of Haudenosaunee representatives recently traveled to Albany to meet with the NYS DEC Commissioner, Peter Grannis. The issue for discussion was man’s latest intrusion upon our earth, hydro-fracking, and the damage it can bring to our environment. Hydro-fracking is a process of drilling, using huge amounts of water and chemicals to push natural gas up to the surface for energy use. This is urgent because we live in the northern end of a geological formation called the Marcellus Shale (see Syracuse Post Standard, October 8, 2008).

The members of our delegation, including the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force (HETF) were well prepared for the meeting. Specific speakers were designated to deliver our positionancient teachings, beginning with our words of Thanksgivings and including a replica and explanation of Guswentha, or ‘Two Row’ wampum belt. The Commissioner and six individuals of the DEC were in attendance.

Haudenosaunee speakers skillfully condensed words passed down through the ages to accommodate time constraints. They explained fundamental natural law, history and presented our still functioning existence with an innate duty to care for the waters, and it’s consumption. Our speakers suggested alternatives- renewable energy technology and energy conservation instead of drilling for natural gas.

After listening to our Haudenosaunee worldview, Commissioner Grannis thanked everyone for their comments, and then he proceeded to give comments of his own. “The Creator put riches above the earth, and he put them below the earth for the benefit of the people. We are mindful of what could happen with the environment,” he said. “There are 1,300 or 1,400 wells operating today. We have some protections in place; we have an extraordinary resource there for the taking. The facts of water—is a finite source, we’re very focused on that. We don’t have the resources to re-deploy for other alternatives. We’re mindful of historic sites.” The Commissioner referred to an environmental impact statement adding they will not permit anything to happen to jeopardize the environment. They are mindful of property rights, he said. Admitting drilling is disruptive and posed risks, Grannis said, in spite of conflicting values, their mission is to go ahead. He left the meeting after staying a halfhour longer than scheduled. Discussions continued with the DEC lawyers and engineers from the Mineral Resources division.

It was obvious that opposing points of view present a stark reality, with our teachings pitted against those of agencies in charge such as the DEC. Our views are longterm- visionary. Theirs are ‘get it now.’ On the DEC website Commissioner Grannis is quoted as saying gas drilling is “worth a fortune.” I can’t help but think of Onondaga Lake and the history that led us to today’s clean-up.’ At some point around 1790 some industrialist saw ‘a fortune to be made’ from salt. In the 20th century Allied- Chemical made ‘a fortune’ with soda ash while dumping bicarbonate and later mercury in to Onondaga Lake. Here we are today, with more damage to our earth— thinking of man’s comfort, the needs of humans. The drilling will use huge amounts of water—along with propping material, a pumping fluid to push and fracture the shale deep underground to push the gas up. What does all this do to the underground formations that have been in place for millions of years? What about all the holes drilled? Disruption of the earth is harmful, and it’s rude. A hundred years from now, will our grandchildren be faced with underground cleanups to restore our earth after the latest damage? A recent gas explosion in Lebanon, New York should have residents questioning the safety and logic of gas drilling. Two workers were injured with the gas fire burning for 10 hours.

Fortunately, the current slump of the economy is a factor in a slow down of drilling for natural gas. According to Clifford Krauss, (NY Times, March 15, 2009), “Gas exploration had soared in recent years after technology advances enabled the exploitation of gas trapped in huge shale beds…, but that boom has created such abundant supplies that companies are not only drilling less, but also deciding not to pump from wells already dilled. Thousands of oil and gas workers who migrated around the country to work in new fields for fat salaries have been laid off,” writes Krauss.

In January 2009, the DEC announced a policy stating the agency “will consult as early as possible with Indian nations whenever they take action that will affect the nation’s interest.” It was clear the Albany meeting was post DEC policy and was not considered a ‘consultation.’