Home Music Music Lists

Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon Lead a Tour Through Fracking Country

‘I’m ready to tell the world this is happening, and this is what they’re doing,’ Ono says

Sean Lennon

Jessica Lehrman

Sean Lennon snaps a photo of a bus transporting journalists, Susan Sarandon and his mother, Yoko Ono, as we wound through Pennsylvania's Susquehanna County. We're here to witness real-life scenes of fracking, the controversial process in which gas-soaked rocks are blasted apart a mile underground to extract gas, which has come under fire for water contamination, pollution, health risks and economic fallout. Ono and Lennon formed Artists Against Fracking – recruiting more than 200 artists, including Paul McCartney and Lady Gaga – after they heard that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is considering allowing fracking in the state. (Cuomo must decide by February 27th.) "This is the only industry on the verge of being greenlighted in a global way," Lennon told Rolling Stone. "If that happens, we will be choosing the dark side of the force. We will be ushering in another generation of fuel dependency, which will tip the earth’s climate into an irrevocable, unlivable temperature and sell out the next generation for some short-term financial benefits. 

This is the great modern struggle of our time."

By Patrick Doyle

Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon

Jessica Lehrman

Give Me Some Truth

Journalists, artists (Susan Sarandon, Gasland director Josh Fox, Cibo Matto's Yuka Honda) and locals packed a coach bus to Montrose, Pennsylvania to tour fracking sites. "The truth is not being known," said Yoko Ono. "We’re responsible for not bringing it out in the world, shouting about it. I’m ready to tell the world this is happening, and this is what they’re doing."

Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon

Jessica Lehrman

Tour De Frack

Ono and Lennon at our first stop, the Hollenbeck gas well on Franklin Forks Road, where local Vera Scroggins says her neighbors complain of noise, trucks, water contamination and nasty smells at all hours. Our arrival was delayed when a WPX Energy representative stopped his car in front of our bus before we headed down the road. "People are saying, 'Oh, they’re just a bunch of artists who don’t know anything," says Ono, "But I really wanted to show what is happening and the Pennsylvania people were saying, 'Please come and see it.' Of course I had to go."

Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon

Jessica Lehrman

Stand Up

Lennon became interested in hydraulic fracturing last July when gas companies held a meeting to propose destroying land to make room for a pipeline for fracking in Delaware County, N.Y, where his family has had a country home since he was a kid. "We had a town meeting where they are trying to make this happen," he says. "I was terrified. They spoke to these silver-haired old lady farmers and nice old couples with organic farms where I live very rudely, saying we’re going to do this, going to do this, I actually raised my hand and said I thought you said you hadn’t gotten permission yet." 

Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, Susan Sarandon

Jessica Lehrman

The Manning House

We visit the Franklin Forks, Pennsylvania home of Tammy and Matt Manning, who sued natural gas drilling company WPX after their well water came back positive for high levels of methane after hydrofracking began near their house. "One day my wife flushed the toilet and she hollered, 'Our water's black,'" said Matt Manning. "Our well had highly explosive levels of methane. The gas company claims it's natural migration. But there's people living in my town for 20 years. All of a sudden their water goes bad and our water goes bad, and it's only a matter of days after they frack the two wells on either side of us? Put two and two together." For the past year, Matt Manning has picked up gallon jugs of water for his family to use in everyday life.

Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon

Jessica Lehrman

Mother

"She’s the hippest woman I know," Lennon says of his mother. "She reads like three books a week. She gave me Gasland and taught me about mountaintop removal, which is the way they're destroying the national parks by bombing the mountaintops to get coal out of them. She’s really got a special personality." 

Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon

Jessica Lehrman

On Record

The duo answer reporters' questions inside the Manning home. "They're trying to be powerful and lay out what they’re going through, you know?" says Ono. "It’s just so sad." Adds Lennon, "They buy bottled water, which must be really expensive."

Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, Susan Sarandon

Jessica Lehrman

Rocky Horror

Sarandon and Ono chat about the dangers of fracking with local reporters. "As a New Yorker, it's a disaster," says Sarandon. "If you're a celebrity, using your celebrity as opposed to having it use you makes you kind of feel a little bit more in control of your life. . . . Being an actor, you use your imagination and you use empathy. That’s the root of acting. That’s my job, so it’s a natural fit."

Sean Lennon, Susan Sarandon

Jessica Lehrman

Gasland

Local resident Frank Finan (far left) shows Lennon, Cibbo Matto's Yuka Honda, Sarandon and Gasland director Josh Fox videos he took with a multi-thousand-dollar infrared camera to document the devastation caused by fracking, including toxic water and flaring waste gas. "His wife has passed away and he funded that project with his savings," says Lennon. "He’s not wealthy, just so devastated about what happened in this community."

Sean Lennon, Susan Sarandon

Jessica Lehrman

Fire on the Mountain

Lennon watches some of Finan's fracking videos taken with an infrared camera. "The EPA hasn't even done that – now you could see these lurching fumes that [come] from these compressor stations from these fracking sites," says Lennon. "It’s really disturbing."

Jessica Lehrman

Here to Stay

"My granddaughter was getting sick from the gas," says Matt Manning of his home's well water. "As soon as they unhooked that well, the problem went away. But I can't move because my house is worthless now. I can't sell it, rent it, nothing."

Yoko Ono

Jessica Lehrman

Private Property

At the home of Craig Stevens, who says he learned his 95-year-old grandmother signed a 10-year lease with the Chesapeake Energy Corp. – the second-largest producer of natural gas – on his family's 115-acre private property. He says the company has dumped 100,000 gallons of waste there. 

Yoko Ono

Jessica Lehrman

Walking on Thin Ice

"A scarcity of love is starting to happen in society, and we just have to stop that," said Ono. "People are just ruining other people’s land, and that’s a criminal thing to do. I really think that at one point, we just have to make sure that people understand that this is not just happening – it's a criminal act."

Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon

Jessica Lehrman

Cool, Cool Water

Ono and Lennon ceremoniously presented gallons of clean water to resident Ray Kemble, a former gas company worker whose water became contaminated after drilling took place 500 feet from his home. "This has turned neighbors against neighbors, towns against towns," he said.

Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, Susan Sarandon

Jessica Lehrman

Name That Color

Kemble displays his contaminated well water to Arun Gandhi (grandson of Mohandas Gandhi), Ono, Lennon and Sarandon. "Do you think this water looks safe enough to drink?" said Ono.

Sean Lennon

Jessica Lehrman

Tour Guide

"If you look around you, there's so much snow and so much wilderness. This is not a place we should be delivering water on trucks," said Lennon during a speech on the bus. "If we're trucking in water to places blanketed by water, then we're in trouble."

Jessica Lehrman

City With No Children

A natural gas compressor station under construction on Route 29. "I didn’t realize how big the compressor stations were," says Lennon. "I had always heard stories about them hissing all night, but I didn’t realize they were little cities of industrial ugliness. That first compressor station we came across was overwhelmingly ugly to look at."

Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, Susan Sarandon

Jessica Lehrman

Witnesses

The group arrives at a natural gas compressor station on Route 29 in Susquehanna County. "Mom, see that thing that looks like a ski trail?" Lennon said. (See it in the last image.) "It's a pipeline and it will never have trees again."

Sean Lennon

Jessica Lehrman

Open All Night

Before the three-hour trip back to New York City, we wrapped the day at Southwestern Energy's site in New Milford, Pennsylvania. "It was not only depressing," said Lennon on the way back. "I felt a lot of sadness for the families because I know that could be my farm and I know the whole state of New York could be like that. It makes me want to weep. One of the reasons I like New York is because Manhattan water comes from the ground upstate. I don’t want to be in Iran where you need to desalinate ocean water to brush your teeth – and that’s what we’re looking forward to."

In This Article: Fracking, Sean Lennon, Yoko Ono

Show Comments