Canadice Lake in the Finger Lakes. Photo by: VisitFingerLakes / Wikimedia Commons
Canadice Lake in the Finger Lakes. Photo by: VisitFingerLakes / Wikimedia Commons

Creating Environmental Awareness Worldwide

Josh Fox, director of the Gasland films, and close to 300 environmentalists, were arrested on Wednesday, May 13 for creating a human wall to protest the storage of methane gas at a natural gas site near Seneca Lake apart of Finger Lakes in New York.

Fox continues to gather support and awareness behind the dangers of fracking and the production of natural gas.

In an interview on Saturday, May 16 he spoke about his arrest, and how to help organize the production of clean energy on a local and national level. 

Recently, you have been incarcerated for protesting against fracking at a natural gas storage facility in the Finger Lakes, New York.

Interview with Josh Fox

MM: What is the primary purpose of your involvement in the most recent protest?

JF: Well, I think there is two reasons why I joined the protest. The first is local and the second is national. We in New York within the anti-fracking community have been fighting fracking in New York for eight years because we don’t want the state to turn into a huge frack field. We don’t want to see the state have what happened, and what is happening in Pennsylvania, as well as many other places. I live in both New York and Pennsylvania. I live right on the border. My families home is in Pennsylvania, and my production studio is in New York. The fight is really important to me.

We manage to successfully able to get a ban on fracking in New York State. Which was unbelievable. At the same time the ban did not also include the infrastructure projects for fracked gas.

Seneca Lake is this beautiful place that provides 100,000 people with drinking water. It creates the kind of microclimate that allows for all these wineries, breweries and distillers around there.

This Houston-based oil company from Texas has a proposal to turn five miles of the lakefront into a gas and LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) storage facility. Which is completely inappropriate, very very risky, and very very dangerous. If we have in fact said in New York State that fracking is bad, which we have, then we should not be storing it. We should be saying, look this is not appropriate, we have renewable energy, and we should not tie ourselves into these huge infrastructure projects which can last, and end up being around for decades and locking us into a fossil fuel future.

Of coarse, the local issue is one reason, but then on a national scale, this would be fracked gas, and fracked oil from North Dakota, from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, from all over the region. It is reasonable in that sense to protest and try to stop this facility from going forward. Also, I think when we are looking at just water, the primary lesson is that there is fracked gas, and tar sands, oil and gas infrastructure, and it is really is the next level of this fight.

You are seeing this weekend in Seattle people being opposed to Shell, being able to park their huge rigs in the port of Seattle. You see the Keystone XL pipeline protests mounting still, all across the United States. People rebelling against the Constitution Pipeline, the Millennium Pipeline, the LGN port in Oregon and in Maryland. You have a situation right now where it is not just the actual drilling and extraction that is being protested, but also the building blocks of the fossil fuel industry which has to start to be dismantled, let’s be clear about that. It makes no sense to continue to develop transportation infrastructure for fuels that we should be simply be phasing out.

That is bad planning, it is a huge huge waste of money, and it also really disrupts communities. That is why you have people like myself, and the 300 other different arrests that happened in Seneca Lake. People were putting themselves in harms way, because they see the harm is greater if they don’t do that action. Both to the local atmosphere, local environment, but also really being able to grasp the larger national and international issues at play here.

MM: Can you talk about what you were charged with? Was it trespassing?

JF: Well, it’s a trespass violation. Which is not a misdemeanor. So, there are many grays of breaking the law, and this is the least serious. It is not like I am going to jail.

Whenever you sacrifice your freedom in a moment like that, you put yourself at risk, and you don’t know what is going to happen. It is a sacrifice, and it is one of those things that you know that you are making yourself vulnerable.

This is not even a misdemeanor level, however this is a violation. So, it is not an incredible serious thing at this time. However, as some people have, I believe, but I am not sure, because I have not talked to legal representation yet, that if I were to refuse to pay the fine, then it would be possible jail time…

There is all softs of ways to express your opposition. There is also a legal question in which would be the best use of your time, and the best way to express yourself. Civil disobedience, whether it results in a long-term plenty, or a simple short thing being in jail for 20 minutes. These are forms of expression, and these are forms of outrage. And these are forms of gathering pension, and appealing to the gestures at times when you feel like your democratic rights have been a searched.

This company is not playing fair with the community, and the community is not finding representation within the democratic government that is supposed to be representing the people and not the corporations. So, people are expressing themselves with civil disobedience because they feel it is their last recourse.

MM: Do you feel that your freedom of speech has been violated?

JF: No, I feel that, well, that is an interesting question. What is speech?

I feel that they are basic human rights being which are being violated all the time. I’m not making that up, basic human rights has outlined in the universal declaration of human rights in the Geneva Convention that state people have the right to clean air, a healthy environment, to not being a prisoner of their environment due to toxic elements, and those rights are constantly being violated by the oil and gas industry.

At the core of all this is human rights, and I think that at the core of all this is democratic values. In America, these are exactly the things that we hold most dear. These are exactly the things the oil and gas industry are constantly trying to disrupt. Whether that is on a state level, a federal level or a local level. They do not want people expressing themselves.

Because basically look, nobody wants to live next to their stuff. Their stuff is toxic, harmful, and harms children. We have been working with oil and gas on the planet earth for far, far, far too long.

You know, we should have transitioned away from oil and gas decades ago. It is only because they are constantly destroying the democratic process through infiltration, through buying influence. We have technology now that can do everything the oil and gas industry does, without the side effects, period, that exists.

Why are using it? Because of their tremendous influence on the state and federal level, and because they are bullies.

That does also imply other rights and infractions. They are freedom of speech infractions, they are freedom of the press infractions. They’re all softs of things that these companies do that damage the state of human rights. In this instance, I wouldn’t say it is a freedom of speech violation, but I do think it is a basic community health, and environmental health human rights violation to these people.

MM: Do you consider the federal energy regulatory commission’s approval of the Crestwood project a rubber stamp?

JF: Well, nobody knows, I look at FERC like the Phantom Menace, you know, (laughs).

Who is FERC? Who are these people? Where did they come from?

Who is FERC? Where did they come from? Who are the people who are FERC? There are five commissioners, can you name them?

MM: No, after a few hours of research, I cannot name an officer yet.

JF: I can name a few of them, but what I am saying is that this is not like a senator or a congress person, or a president. These are people that have been appointed. They are usually oil and gas executives, right now a lot of them are in utilities, and they are not use to this level of controversy. They are use to putting the rubber stamp on these oil and gas industries. I think that the entire commission has to be overhauled. I mean it is just in charge of way too many projects. There is no citizen participation, we are talking pipelines, compressor stations, and gas storage facilities. The FERC is really something that has to be outed as a total disastrous, antidemocratic body.

I don’t think they ever turn anything down. I’ve not seen them turn anything down. It is always public participation, public pressure from these types of these relatively obscure bureaucratic entities that has the possibility of making a difference.

So, FERC is just an arm of our government, but they are not an arm of our government that has any democratic participation, that has to change. Besides that, it is all about making sure people fight back. When people fight back, you start to see these things start to change.

There is a similar kind of situation with the Delaware River Basin Commission. They have five commissioners, no one knows who they are, but the Delaware River Basin Commission never gets approved for anything that came in front of them for vote. After years and years of public pressure, they finally backed off from opening up the Delaware River Basin for fracking.

So, these kind of agencies can be worked with, and can be protested, but the FERC is particularly bad, in terms of their track record, and also their accessibility level. They really need to be a target, because like I said, they are in charge of so many projects, and they are never on the side of the people, and always seem to be on the side of these corporations.

* FERC Commissioners:

  • The Commissioners are:
  • Philip D. Moeller (term expires on June 30, 2015)
  • Cheryl LaFleur, Chairman (term expires on June 30, 2019)
  • Tony Clark (term expires on June 30, 2016)
  • Norman C. Bay (term expires June 30, 2018)
  • Colette Honorable (term expires June 30, 2017)

MM: I agree. I am going to look up some of their names, and I am going to try to get into that. It seems the more I can make people aware about it, the more they feel empowered and the more they can feel they can make a stand as well. Is that how you also feel?

JF: I totally agree. Awareness is fundamental. We are all living in a democratic society, but that means way more than voting. It means you have to become informed about these decisions, because if you’re not, these decisions will be made without you.

MM: How many years have you been advocating for the environment?

JF: Well, I have been very interested, and I love nature my whole life, I grew up with nature, but at the same time, I don’t think I was really involved until 2008, when I first started to make Gasland, and when I first started to be invaded by fracking industry. And a lot of people get involved that way. When you are living your life, and all of a sudden this huge, massive proposal from the fossil fuel industry comes, and they way they act towards people is so abusive and wrong, you get drawn in, and that is what happened to me. And the whole process is what Gasland is all about.

MM: Can you explain to me why storing methane gas in salt caverns is dangerous?

JF: There is a lot of risks that you can see in the short film I made, that can be attached to the article, they’re explosive risks obviously, underground gas facilities can explode, and catch on fire. They can leak into groundwater, the gas can migrate through underground faults, they can collapse, they can run real havoc, and they can also do things like what happened at Lake Peigneur in Louisiana in 1980.

There was a salt cavern underneath Lake Peigneur that was drilled into that was an oil storage, and it was at the bottom of the lake. It drained the whole lake down underneath into the salt caverns. The lost the rig, they lost 11 barges, and they lost tanker trucks. No of which was never recovered. It was just sucked the lake down the hole. So, there is all softs of crazy things that can happen.

This sounds like a plot from Superman 7. Like Luthor is going to store toxic, explosive oil underneath the drinking water supply for 100,000 people.

MM: It seems like art has a way of intimating life.

JF: Well, in this case, I think it is the other way around, where the gas industry behaving, as they do, often, life is going in a superhero movie.

MM: Can you tell me a little about “The Soulutions Grassroots Tour”?

JF: Yeah sure, The Soulutions Grassroots Tour, is a tour that goes around and educates people on how to go over renewables. If we are to be protesting fracking, and making a ban on fracking, we replace the fuel. In many states, you can switch over to a renewable energy power source for your electricity, and people don’t know that because of ethical electric, or community energy, or something like that, when you are actually buying wind power instead buying coal and gas on your bill. So, we educate people how to do that. We teach people how to get rooftop solar going on their houses. And all these are options people have for renewable energy.

Mostly, what The Soulutions Grassroots Tour is focused on is organizing. Organizing people at the local level towards leadership energy community groups to transform as much energy as possible.

We are doing the tour on The Rockaways in New York City on Monday, May 18. It is relatively you know small groups people, 200, 300, 400 people show up, but that is a great size to be able to have a community-based discussion about it.

MM: What motivates you to want to save the environment?

JF: Just want to stay alive. Without our environment we cannot live. The earth is a beautiful and wonderful place. What we are facing with climate change is destruction, sadness, and depression. It is the most important part of our life.

MM: Do you have any updates on the state regulatory proceedings regarding the Crestwood project?

JF: I don’t, but I think where it is right now is there is an appeal to Senator Schumer, and Senator Gillibrand to go to appeal to FERC. So, we are asking our federal representatives In New York State to go to FERC, and try to work on them. The focus is on right now to get FERC to wake back up again, and get our senators in New York State to get involved.

MM: I know your time is valuable, and I appreciate everything you do.

JF: People from all over can participate with this. Seneca Lake is looking for new Seneca Lake defenders. They want people to come and continue these blockades. We are Seneca Lake are looking for people, and calling on volunteers. Not just Seneca Lake, but places like where you are from in Southern Illinois, or folks in Nebraska who are protesting the Keystone Pipeline, and all across America. We need folks to start to get involved. Right now, I think the most important thing we can be doing is talking about how we can take back our democracy. Right now, this is not going to work if we are just sitting and voting every once and awhile. This has to be participatory.

I am calling on people to please join the movement. It doesn’t mean you have to necessarily have to get arrested. Some brave people will want to get arrested. There is all sorts of other things that has to be done, like educational awareness, showing Gasland, showing the other great films, having gatherings, writing about these things, and talking with neighbors. This is a movement of friends. This is a movement of neighbors. There is so many types of jobs. It doesn’t always have to be about getting arrested or blockading something. That is a situation where you are taking on a little bit of risk.

The risk is far greater if we don’t act.

The risks to ourselves, our future, our children, and the next generation is far greater if we don’t act. So, I am hoping people will reach out and participate.

MM: Thanks again Josh, you are a great man.