Today’s Solutions: June 15, 2024

The side effects of hydraulic fracking are notorious. Fracking is the use of liquid to fracture shale rock, and then extract the natural gas that comes through the fractures. Fracking deposits a cocktail of chemicals into underground waterways, one of the most infamous occurrences of this is a Youtube video (see below) that shows a woman lighting her tap water on fire. Helen Slottje, a former corporate lawyer, has worked for the past 5 years to ban hydraulic fracking in upstate New York. Slottje’s work has played an integral roll in implementing over 170 bans throughout New York’s upstate region. This week Slottje was awarded the 2014 Goldman Environmental Prize, an honor bestowed yearly to six individuals at the forefront of grassroots environmentalism.
The Intelligent Optimist: A lot of people would think twice before taking on Big Oil but you didn’t, why?
Helen Slottje: Arrogance [Slottje laughs]. Both my husband and I are very meticulous and detail-oriented. You have to be when taking on big oil companies, if there’s any weaknesses or shortfalls you’re going to be exploited. With our attention to detail and experience we felt confident.
TIO: What’s been the hardest part of your journey?
HS: Just how big upstate New York is– traveling from town to town and this constant pressure of not knowing. It’s not like somebody said five years ago there wouldn’t be a decision until 2014. So there was this constant “the sky is falling” mentality.
TIO: If plans for fracking in my community are underway how do I stop them?
HS: There are a lot of groups out there now that are working on this that can provide help. The NRDC [National Resources Defense Counsil] has launched a Community Fracking Defense project. Earth Justice is working with a number of groups. The Oil and Gas Accountability Project does a lot of work in western states. It’s really important to go to town board meetings and get involved.
TIO: What’s been the most rewarding part of your journey?
HS: The overwhelming warmth and support, gratitude from the people that we’re working with just makes it so rewarding. I’ve never gotten that kind of reaction as a lawyer. People cry and name their pets after us, things like that, it has been just amazing.

TIO: You’ve shut down fracking in over 170 towns and cities across New York. What’s next?
HS: We’re finishing up in a lot of towns that we started working with that have temporary laws, we’re turning those into bans. You don’t build a multi-billion dollar gas plant to turn if off in a couple years, especially when you ask the taxpayers to pay for it. We’re working with other groups and lawyers in states like California, Virginia and Florida. Places where people are beginning to really see that this is a good avenue of attack.
TIO: For towns where fracking already exists is there a way to get the oil companies out?
HS: It’s obviously more difficult once any use is in place. There is one avenue of attack– old common law nuisances that say just because you have a property right, you have no right to use your land to harm someone else. If that fracking operation is harming people, even if it’s conducted in accordance with the best regulations, but is still emitting fumes and resulting in methane migration (what’s occurring in the above video), nuisance type laws can really be applied there.
TIO: How can people help your cause?
HS: Soon we’re going to have places on our website where people can take action. We’ll have petitions, letters to the editor and to your governor. You’ll be able to customize letters, put in your ZIP code and figure out where to send and submit your letter. It’s not ready yet, but you can always visit
Photo courtesy of the Goldman Environmental Prize
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