Binghamton DEC Hearing Draws Big & Loud Crowd

Unfortunately MDN editor Jim Willis was not in Binghamton for the Nov. 17 DEC hearing on the newest revisions to the draft drilling regulations that would finally allow shale gas drilling in the state. However, there was plenty of media coverage of the event, which drew more than 1,000 people to the Forum Theatre in downtown Binghamton.

The Nov. 17 hearing was the second of four scheduled public hearings on the new regulations. The final two will be at the end of November, one in Loch Sheldrake (Sullivan County) and one in New York City.

Reporting on the Binghamton hearing from the hometown Press & Sun-Bulletin:

During the first of two three-hour sessions Thursday, 63 people spoke, divided almost evenly between the two sides of the drilling discussion.

The comments — limited to three minutes each — drew lively reactions from a vocal crowd, which met the speakers with applause, boos, and the wiggling fingers and crossed arms popularized by the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Drilling advocates expressed frustration with DEC’s three-and-a-half year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. Meanwhile, opponents urged further study.

Both sides shared grievances with DEC’s revised draft of the Generic Environmental Impact Statement, a 1,500-page document that lays out the agency’s regulatory groundwork for high-volume, hydraulic fracturing — a technique used to unleash gas trapped deep inside rock formations like the Marcellus Shale.

Advocates of drilling echoed a common refrain: the three-and-a-half year moratorium on hydrofracking in New York has gone on too long.

"These drilling opponents will never be satisfied," said Julie Scott, a landowner from the Town of Barker. "Their tactic is to delay, delay, delay until it is too late. Please don’t let this happen."

Not surprisingly, perhaps, those concerned with the state’s movement toward natural gas drilling said the delays are necessary because of perceived inadequacies in the regulatory framework.

Wes Gillingham, program director for Catskill Mountainkeeper, said the SGEIS presents an "erroneous analysis" of the environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing and includes other oversights, including failing to ban the storage of wastewater in open pits.

"This is outrageous," he said to standing applause. "We want that document thrown out."

While the crowd was mostly civil, at least four people were escorted out of the theater — two of whom attempted to unfurl a large protest banner, which violated the facility’s rules.

Speakers were urged to focus their statements on the SGEIS, but many comments veered toward appraisals of whether drilling should take place in New York.

The crowd remained equally boisterous in the second three-hour portion of the meeting, but some of the reaction took a different twist.

"Our natural resources that we have here with natural gas have brought our country closer than ever to achieving energy independence," said Scott Kurkoski, attorney for the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, whose comments elicited a strong reaction from both sides. "It’s time to move forward. Three-and-a-half years is enough."

Fingers were wiggled at the comments of Brendan Woodruff, hydrofracking campaign organizer for the New York Public Interest Research Group.

"The revised SGEIS does not include an adequate assessment of cumulative impacts, including public heath impacts and proper disposal of the toxic and possibly radioactive wastewater," Woodruff said. "You have opted to fast-track the process instead of … undertaking a full environmental review."*

*Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin (Nov 17, 2011) – Fracking regulations: DEC’s latest script produces high drama at Binghamton Forum