By Anya Tikka
LOCH SHELDRAKE Sharply polarized views over hydrofracking were aired at the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) hearing in Loch Sheldrake’s Sullivan County Community College Campus on Tuesday.
It was the next-to-last public hearing the DEC organized to hear the public’s comments on its draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) on hydrofracking in the Marcellus Shale.
People lined up outside in the drizzling rain to speak for the allotted three minutes and then were rotated back outside due to the size of the auditorium that could only hold about 250 at the time. Organizers said about 90 people signed up to speak in each of the two sessions.
Those who are in favor of drilling claimed the proposed setbacks and regulations virtually prevent any drilling from taking place. Those against said they’re far too lenient. The oil and gas industries are exempt from many environmental regulations, like the Safe Drinking Water Act, said those opposing fracking, citing hundreds of cases of fires, emergencies, explosions, and contaminated water, and fearing more environmental disasters and perhaps irreversible water damage.
Ulster County Legislator Hector Rodriguez said, “The science is clear that fracking inevitably brings unacceptable disasters and devastation.”
Chris Lacey from Bethel talked about fears versus facts in her three-minute speech. “Where are the jobs?” she asked, then replied, “In states that drill the shale. Green energy is a scam, a pipe dream.” The audience erupted in huge jeering, and Lacey turned to the moderators, angrily saying, “You’re not controlling the crowd.”
Moderator Maureen McBride threatened to cancel the hearing if there were any more interruptions.
Catskill Mountainkeeper’s Wes Gillingham opposes fracking due to increased truck traffic, air and noise pollution, chemical spills, water contaminations and disruptions to wildlife and hunting grounds, while Kathleen Nolan, a Board Certified pediatrician, opposes drilling on health and public safety grounds.
“We can view… fracking… as a very poorly designed experiment,” she said, and went on to call the proposed drilling irresponsible for health reasons, as well as “… because the economic pressures to participate… are duly coercive to individuals and elected officials.”
The drilling industry has only a few documented cases of accidents, claimed Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York. He said, “With more than one million wells safely hydraulically fractured in the United States, the nation’s oil and natural gas industry has a stellar record of safety and compliance with required environmental standards.”
The lack of accumulated impact studies was mentioned by several speakers. Sullivan County District 3 Legislator-elect Cora Edwards brought up the issue of radioactivity she claimed is released in the process of drilling deep.
Ross Pepe, president of the Construction Industry Council and a member of Clean Growth Now said, “Our communities can create new jobs and produce clean energy by following the safety provisions laid out in Governor Cuomo’s plan.”
Some Friends of Natural Gas NY were engaged in at times heated exchanges with the Frackbusters of New York, who want to make hydrofracking illegal and anyone connected with the industry subject to prosecution and jail terms.
Fred Cobb, a businessman from Binghamton in Broome County whose farm has been in his family for 64 years, noted that 400,000 wells have been drilled and fracked, and some of them were done poorly in the beginning, but the industry has learned from its mistakes.
“I’m waiting for the right lease that has the right safeguards to sign up,” said Cobb, adding, “We consume six times more [fossil fuels] than we produce. It’s an ethical responsibility to drill.”
Jim Gleason from New Paltz and Abram Lube from Afton, who held signs saying, “Criminalize Fracking,” said the gas companies and those who are for fracking have “money stuck in their ears,” but also “They have lots of money, we have lots of legs.”
Douglas Lee from Long Island, who has a second home in Sullivan County, defended “forced pooling,” where it’s possible to drill under a neighbor’s property under certain circumstances.
“We all share air and water. So going under a neighbor’s property is OK, similar to eminent domain,” said Lee. “This argument is about lifestyle. Land owners have the right to do what they want on their land. The EPA says there only 50 cases of well contamination.”
Lube and Gleason refuted the figures, asking: “How many signed a non-disclosure statement?”
Al Larson of Livingston Manor and co-founder of the Rural Bethel Landowners Coalition, supports safe drilling, saying cows graze near the fracked fields in Texas and the locals drink the water.
“In Sullivan County, 25 percent are unemployed or working part time. New York has the highest tax rate in the country, and no jobs,” he said. “Everyone’s leaving. Sullivan County is the second poorest county in New York State. We must be permitted to drill safely.”
Some farmers spoke up to say they were for the drilling because they could not afford to keep their farms running anymore if it didn’t happen. Willie Hughson, a dairy farmer from Jeffersonville, said drilling can be done safely and effectively.
Some public officials and others tried to strike a balance between getting the much needed jobs and revenue and keeping the environment clean.
Town of Callicoon Supervisor Thomas Bose reminded that there’s a need to regulate, but the county needs money, and if it’s not found from sources like fracking, Sullivan County will head for unprecedented tax increases.
There’s a need for compromise, he said.
DEC extends comment period
The public comment period for the revised draft SGEIS, originally slated to be concluded on December 12, has been extended to January 11, 2012.
Comments can be submitted to www.dec.ny.gov/energy/
76838.html or by mail to:
Attn: dSGEIS Comments
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Albany, NY 12233
Comments should focus on changes in the 2011 revised draft SGEIS. Comments previously submitted on the 2009 draft will be considered in the final SGEIS and do not need to be resubmitted.