Kelly Hyde, or ‘Kaahele’ when she’s got her musician hat on, grew up in the Catskills of New York on the Delaware River, swimming and playing and feeling great comfort and safety by the water. In 2001, Kelly’s mom, Kate Bowers, took her, then14 yrs old, and her two sisters, to a big peace rally in New York, with thousands of Americans hoping to curb imminent war. That was her first experience of speaking out for a cause.
Not so many years later in upstate New York began hydraulic fracturing, the practice of natural gas extraction by pumping large amounts of water, sand, and chemicals deep into the earth’s shale deposits and using explosions to release stored gas. The technique uses large amounts of water and can lead to groundwater contamination, chemical spills and disturbance of large areas of land, according to a 2012 state report from North Carolina. Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, is threatening the designated “wild and scenic” Delaware River and its clean drinking water, which supplies 15 million people, including the residents of New York City and Philadelphia. Also threatened are the beauty and health of Kelly’s family home — water, air, soil, economy, and way of life.
Kelly’s friends and family all live in the Delaware River Watershed, and so they are all affected in some way by the fracking industry. She can’t remember when she first heard about the method of natural gas extraction. “For so long I just remember going to the river and almost crying because the fracking had started and the river was possibly going to be polluted from Pennsylvania, or it was going to start in New York,” bringing ethane, butane, propane, and methane, into the water and the land. Many locals around the Delaware watershed have chosen to make a lease agreement with the fracking companies, allowing the procedure to happen on their land, and receiving thousands of dollars in return.
In 2010, the Delaware River Basin Commission, consisting of the governors from New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, and having the job of managing the waters there, effectively placed a moratorium on fracking in the Delaware River Basin. They basically chose to hold off on any decisions regarding drilling in the Basin until new regulations were adopted. Large and small landowners who wish to profit from fracking on their land are growing impatient with the DRBC’s now 3 1/2 year old moratorium. Others who live, farm and own land in the region continue to speak out against fracking altogether, hoping for a complete ban on the practice, as North Carolina has. “The moratorium was awesome, because suddenly, we didn’t have to worry about the river.”
I met Kelly on the Big Island of Hawaii in spring of 2012. My friend and musical cohort SaraTone, of Seattle area, suggested I bring in Kelly, or ‘Kaahele’ now since we’re talking music, to perform at my healing concert, titled Rebirth. Kaahele was wonderful, real, deep, funny. She has numerous creative videos on YouTube and has a new CD out this year. But it wasn’t until recently when I got to hang out with her more that I learned about her connection to the land, and the protection of her homeland back in New York. As she spoke about her mom and the activism around fracking, and with all her awareness as a young person, I knew I wanted to interview her.
Kelly’s former bedroom is the now the headquarters of Catskills Citizens for Clean Energy, founded by her mom, Kate Bowers. Kelly lit up as she described the room, now full of banners, buttons and petitions. She speaks about her mom with great respect, describing Kate’s years of work, spreading info by tabling at weekend markets and fairs, for example; holding countless planning meetings in her kitchen; and even running for City Council. The issue seems to be worth every moment spent. In the very Catskills neighborhood where Kelly’s mother and younger sister still live, local filmmaker Josh Fox made his excellent exposé, Gasland. The film shows a Dimmock, PA man lighting his kitchen tap water on fire with a match after his land was fracked. This is not uncommon, as the vast amounts of chemical-laden water pumped under high pressure down into the land, generally 5,000–20,000 feet, have been known to leak into the water table and drinking supplies. The wikipedia entry on fracking says that most hydraulic fracturing actually occurs below the water table. But evidence shows that drinking water supplies are being contaminated.
I asked Kelly what she would say to someone who wanted one of the many, many jobs created by an industry that trucks in countless loads of water, chemicals, concrete, personnel, etc, (see Gasland!) to do its work. “Where would you LIKE to work?” she asked a man she spoke with once at a bar back home. She tells me, “People are stuck on the idea that work has to be not fun, not meaningful. They should at least try to find something else.” She described an incident in which she and her friends knew a property across the river from them would be fracked the next morning, so they all planned to get set up there before dawn and stand in the way of the operation. More friends had some over from New York City to stand together for the land. But when they arrived, the job was done. The fracking team had come in overnight and were already gone.
Solutions? Kelly has the impression that East Coasters are slow with alternative energy because they are generally slow with new ways until something really catches on, and then it is generally accepted. She said she doesn’t see many or any windmills or solar panel arrays around upstate New York. We got to talking about the landowners’ desire to make money off of fracking on their land: “It’s a handout. It’s not like they are doing any kind of work for that money. They are having a hard time paying their mortgages and they want the money. . People seem to just want more . . . sacrificing safety for money — more money, more things. I want to see people do less, drive less, buy less stuff, instead of always wanting more,” she said. Kelly told me that she has read about a North American indigenous tribe that considered people who wanted more than everyone else had to be dismissed as mentally ill . . .
“Spirituality is something personal, which I wouldn’t want to try to force on anyone, but [this issue] woke me up to how sacred water is.”
This interviewer noted that education seems like one effective solution. You can’t make people do or not do anything. Profit-driven companies will skirt around laws, and people will be bought and sold. But a populous who truly understands the value of their natural resources, and the damaging effects of practices like fracking, will likely side with protecting the environment.
Kelly, Kaahele, imagines herself doing a fracking awareness tour with her music. Although she has a new CD out and videos and lots of music under her belt, this summer she will make her first tour, on the West Coast and beyond. “How has this awareness about fracking affected your music?” I asked her. Kaahele quoted a great lady from back home, Public Radio’s Lisa Brody. Brody interviewed Kaahele and told her that her songs “have a common theme about the separation between the modern and the natural worlds.” “Where do you stand in the balance?” her songs ask. “And what is your relationship to all this technology?”
Water is one of New York State’s greatest resources. The Catskills region is beloved for it creeks and ponds everywhere, and of course, for the Delaware River. Kelly first understood the weight of the fracking situation when she heard her family speak of possibly leaving their cabin in the woods near the river. She hadn’t ever imagined her family leaving this place. Stretching 133 miles and four states from headwaters to river mouth, the Delaware is considered to be the cleanest river in the United States. And now, it is also possibly one of the most endangered. As one great poet, friend, and grandmother Staajabu said in the late 90’s, “We must speak out, if only to be able to tell our children that we did something.”