Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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NY: Fracking hearings get testy, at times rowdy

Binghamton, N.Y. (AP) – Speakers at a state hearing on natural
gas drilling last month drew conflicting images of the industry’s
impact in nearby Pennsylvania, with drilling advocates touting jobs
and prosperity and opponents describing a despoiled landscape and
ruined water wells.

With frequent interruptions for catcalls and applause, only 63
people got a chance to weigh in on proposed natural gas-drilling
rules during a three-hour hearing attended by more than 1,000
people in Binghamton, the expected epicenter of drilling in New
York’s part of the Marcellus Shale.

Stephen Herz, a Broome County legislator, farmer, and former
teacher, said his former students have been unable to find
employment near home but some quickly found well-paying jobs in the
natural gas business in Pennsylvania, where Marcellus Shale
development has been under way since 2008.

“Our farms are shutting down and being sold to speculators. Our
rural areas, quite frankly, are becoming wastelands. We’re laying
off teachers, curtailing programs,” Herz said. He said natural gas
development would provide much-needed jobs and revenues.

Craig Sautner, one of 11 homeowners from Dimock, Pa., suing Cabot
Oil & Gas over contamination of their wells, offered a
cautionary tale to those who think drilling has been a blessing in
Pennsylvania. “I’ve been living with a contaminated well now for
more than three years,” he said.

Chris Oliver of Bainbridge, member of the Central New York
Landowners Coalition, said his group spent three years
investigating claims about gas-drilling problems and decided the
claims were overblown. “We’ve come to an informed, educated
conclusion,” he said. “We are pro-drilling, pro-fracking, and most
of all, pro landowner rights.”

At one point, the proceedings at the Forum theater paused for
several minutes as police removed a protester who unfurled a banner
expressing opposition to the process of extracting the gas, known
as fracking. No signs were allowed inside.

Hours before the hearing even started, supporters and opponents of
drilling were rallying for their respective causes as they lined up
outside.

The hearing was the latest in a series of eight being held over
four days by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The first hearings were held Nov. 16 in the Finger Lakes, and the
last two were slated for the end of the month in Sullivan County
and New York City. The agency is also accepting in writing until
Dec. 12 more detailed and technical comments on the state’s
1,537-page environmental analysis and regulatory proposal.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting millions of
gallons of chemical-laced water into a gas well to free gas from
dense shale a mile underground. Opponents say there’s too much risk
that drinking water could be contaminated, but the industry and
supporters say the practice has been employed safely for decades,
albeit on a smaller scale.

Officials leading the Binghamton hearing implored the audience to
refrain from reacting to individual speakers so that more people
would have a chance to comment; speakers are being limited to
three-minute segments.

While some local officials spoke in favor of gas development,
citing the economic advantages, others, including Binghamton Mayor
Matthew Ryan and two state lawmakers from the Southern Tier,
expressed concerns about potential health and community
impacts.

Drilling opponents cited a variety of concerns, including the
placement of wells, violation of mortgage contracts, a lack of a
comprehensive health impact study, and no provision for communities
to ban drilling.

Supporters touted jobs, tax income, and property rights.

“My constituents are not the inconsiderate, greedy money grabbers
that some try to make them out to be,” said Loretta Sullivan, a
Tioga County legislator. “They’re thoughtful stewards of their
land, looking for a reasonable and responsible opportunity to keep
themselves afloat and keep their families intact.”

Ellen Harrison of Caroline, a member of Fleased, a group of
landowners who regret having signed gas leases before they learned
enough about the industry, said she’s unhappy with many aspects of
the proposed regulations, including the setback requirements for
residential wells.

“Many of us who signed leases are now against drilling,” Harrison
said. “We had no idea we could no longer get mortgages on our
property … We had no idea we could no longer get homeowners’
insurance.”

Several speakers questioned why the watersheds of New York City and
Syracuse were placed off-limits to drilling in the proposed
regulations, but other water supplies were not. “What’s the
difference between New York City kids and my kids?” said Kim
Jastremski of Cooperstown, holding up two photos of children.

People started lining up outside the downtown theater several hours
before the hearing began in hopes of getting one of the speaking
slots. Police erected barriers to corral pro-drillers on one end of
the block and anti-drillers on the other. Both sides tried to
outshout each other.

Gas-drilling advocates bellowed “Drill baby drill” through a
bullhorn and opponents chanted “No fracking way.” The opponents,
bolstered by members of statewide environmental groups, outnumbered
the proponents by about four to one.

“I’m all for natural gas drilling coming into New York,” said Neil
Vitale, an organic dairy farmer and member of the Steuben County
Landowners’ Coalition. “I live five miles from the Pennsylvania
border and I’ve seen how natural gas leases have been a lifesaver
for farmers there.”

Calin Riffle of Narrowsburg carried a poster with photos of three
glasses of murky water that she said came from taps in Dimock, Pa.,
where some residential wells were contaminated by gas-drilling
activity. “We don’t want to see the same thing happen here,” she
said.

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