Citizen Resiliency in Action: The Sautners Fight Fracking in Dimock, PA

At times Craig and Julie Sautner have felt isolated from the lack of government response to their local disaster by agencies at all three levels of government.  The Saunters and a handful of neighbors around Carter Road in Dimock, Pennsylvania had their drinking water contaminated by a natural gas drilling process known as ‘fracking’.  By bringing attention to their plight, the State established a nine square mile drilling moratorium in the area making them a pariah to area residents and drilling companies hoping to capitalize on the natural gas boom in northeastern Pennsylvania and the multistate area known as the Marcellus Formation.

With the homes on and around Carter Road drinking water poisoned by chemicals associated with natural gas drilling making the homes uninhabitable without the delivery of “buffaloes” of drinking water, the Sautners have become the “squeaky wheels” and unintended social network hub for neighbors demanding action.  With the attention they drew to their personal cause through traditional media starting with an June 2010 article in Vanity Fair, speaking at rallies about the environmental dangers of fracking, and giving interviews to the likes of Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes and Robert Kennedy, Jr, they were able to attract high-powered allies in the Sierra Club, the Water Defense led by actor Mark Ruffalo, independent filmmaker Josh Fox of “Gasland”, and the mayors of several Upstate New York cities including Binghamton’s Mayor Mathew Ryan.

Although the Sautners have used traditional media for drawing attention to their cause and have had the advantage of physical proximity to the small group of neighbors, they do see the value for increasing the use of social media.  Craig and Julie have been featured in numerous YouTube videos which allow them to state their case with every new view.  Although they do most networking through their almost constantly ringing landline, they see the advantage of using Facebook and Twitter to get the word out about meetings, rallies and fundraising events.  The bottom line according to Julie is that “we’re Americans, we have a voice” and Craig advises anyone in the position of David facing Goliath to “speak up” and “fight back”.

How do you think social media can be better used to augment traditional means of gaining media attention for a cause?

This entry was posted in Dimock, Research Project and tagged , , , , , , , , , by kevdesouza. Bookmark the permalink.

About kevdesouza

Dr Kevin C. Desouza is the director of the Metropolitan Institute and an associate professor at the Center for Public Administration and Policy at Virginia Tech. Before joining Virigina Tech, he was an associate professor at the University of Washington (UW) Information School and held adjunct appointments in the UW’s College of Engineering and at the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs. At UW, he co-founded and directed the Institute for Innovation in Information Management (I3M); founded the Institute for National Security Education and Research, an inter-disciplinary, university-wide initiative, in August 2006 and served as its director until February 2008; and was an affiliate faculty member of the Center for American Politics and Public Policy. He holds a visiting professorship at the Faculty of Economics, University of Ljubljana. He has held visiting positions at the Center for International Studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science, the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, the Groupe Sup de Co Montpellier (GSCM) Business School in France, and the Accenture Institute for High Business Performance in Cambridge, Massachusetts (USA). In the private sector, he founded the Engaged Enterprise and its think-tank, the Institute for Engaged Business Research. Desouza has authored, co-authored, and/or edited nine books and has published more than 125 articles in prestigious practitioner and academic journals. His work has also been featured by a number of publications such as Sloan Management Review, Harvard Business Review, Businessweek, Washington Internet Daily, Computerworld, and Human Resource Management International Digest. He has been interviewed by the press on outlets such as Voice of America, Manager (Slovenia), among others. He is frequently an invited speaker on a number of cutting-edge business and technology topics for national and international, industry, and academic audiences.

3 thoughts on “Citizen Resiliency in Action: The Sautners Fight Fracking in Dimock, PA

  1. The Sautners have done a pretty good job of using social media to publicize the water problems in their area. As mentioned in the blog post, standard news media have also provided publicity for the Sautners, and environmental action groups have also gotten involved. In addition, an independent filmmaker has made a movie about the situation. It is also very helpful to their cause that the Sautners are well spoken, and appear calm and rational in the video, because raving and ranting would be counterproductive. The Sautners already make much use of YouTube, and Julie is on Facebook. To increase the use of social media, I suggest the following: set up a specific “Craig and Julie Sautner” causes page on Facebook, and perhaps on the Internet. On those pages, post links to the independent movie “Gasland,” and to their YouTube videos, the Vanity Fair article, and the Leslie Stahl 60 Minutes interview. Perhaps the Sautners could contact the maker of Gasland and ask if he could make a version that is about 10 minutes long, so that it could be posted on Facebook and other places. Another way to use social media is to get the 18 -25 year old cohort involved, but I am not certain of how to do this. It was this cohort that helped publicized the Kony2012 video (whatever anyone thinks about it and the cause, it went viral very rapidly, and, in fact, I learned about it from my 25-year-old neice’s Facebook post.) One suggestion for enlisting this cohort is to arrange for the Sautners to have a town-hall type gathering at Penn State University.

  2. Social networking has gone from a “flash” to a true method of communication tool to get ones message out. Obviously, from this video we see that it has become a tool to get stories out about one’s own plight. The popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn have more than quadrupled from 2005 to 2009 ( The use of these sites have allowed users to develop high profiles regarding their situation – such as in Dimock, PA. Although they tell us in the video that they had been interviewed by many of the “traditional” media outlets such as print and television, the use of social networks has allowed them to keep their story and their plight alive – and at their own will. It has allowed them to reach out to many others either in their situation OR that are sympathetic to their issue. One could say that this is much like a “David and Goliath” scenario where those who once would have been silent or helpless victims now how have a way to fight back. Those who are proponents of social networking argue that these online communities increase truly have allowed the world to be connected. Opponents, on the other hand, have argued that social networking sites increase exposure of vulnerability (like the elderly or young) to elements that may seem forthright and upfront but are actually covers for arterial motives.
    The growth of social networking sites is outpacing the development of rules, laws, and unofficial etiquette regarding their use. For example, Congressman Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) sent messages via Twitter announcing his whereabouts as he traveled through war zones during a Feb. 2009 trip to Iraq, giving rise to security concerns about the use of social media to post real-time locations (Michael Falcone, “In Iraq: To Twitter or Not to Twitter?,” New York Times, Feb. 9, 2009). Here we see how a rather innocuous “tweet” actually had huge ramifications. Businesses must think carefully what their plan of action is with the social networking scheme before they launch it because they are also exposing their business to entities who may take advantage of the opportunity and cause them great grief. The same must be said about individuals. They must be aware of the pitfalls of the situation that they are about to put themselves into. They will be exposed to the public, they could be ridiculed, like the couple in the video, they could create enemies, etc. And all of this may be acceptable risk to those individuals. They just need to know what they are exposing themselves to before the move ahead.

  3. First of all, I think that there is a delicate balance between making too much noise and not enough, in any situation. Lets face it, in this day and age, sending just one email or making just one phone call has a tendency to get lost in translation. On the other hand, writing 100 letters, emails, texts, blogs, making 100 phone calls, videos, or social media entries can have similar impact as well. This can create a domino effect of redundancy, inattention, and/or finger pointing. Let me explain. If you have too many agencies involved, you can have many people doing the same research essentially wasting hours and resources of the government that could be put to other assignments/missions. Another issue is that if you have too many agencies involved, some may not be doing any real work – thinking others were handling it. This could hold true for all parties involved, which means nothing is being done. Lastly, the involved agencies/corporations could get involved in a finger pointing battle, with the main goal of covering themselves and deflecting accusations, again leading to nobody really working towards a resolution.
    That being said, I think there is some good in using social media to put a message out. This is because you are basically throwing out fishing bait, and hopefully the proper agencies, support, and resources become involved to efficiently address the problem, unlike my earlier example of having too many people/agencies involved with the possibility of hindering progress.
    We also need to be cognizant of the direction that social media is going. One of the main reasons that things like Facebook and twitter became so popular is because people have the ability to socially network especially with family, friends, and people of similar interest. If things like marketing, government, politics, and media start overtaking that platform – it could change, evolve, or even make it non-existent. MySpace was one of the first ones on the scene until it got inundated with advertising so people jumped ship onto the other networks.
    Maybe someone could create a social media site geared toward s government agencies, companies, media, etc. that allow people to have more control with how and which ones they connect to. People are not strangers to having multiple accounts (Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.) so this could be a solution worth exploring…

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