In Binghamton, N.Y., on Monday, the EPA staged the first part of its final community meeting as part of the lead-up to its forthcoming study on the potential effects of hydrofracking on water. The event was the final of four such meetings commissioned before the agency launches its study early next year.
Officials hoped to glean information from the public about what they should consider as part of their evaluation, including case studies and other relevant data. In reality, they often heard emotional, and at times repetitive, pleas on either side of the debate.
Throughout the afternoon and evening, speakers against hydraulic fracking – who outnumbered supporters by about two to one – cited a range of concerns, among them potential medical hazards, poisoned aquifers and well water, and the cumulative environmental effects of large-scale hydrofracking on the region.
Upstate Rep. Maurice Hinchey, who spoke first, roundly condemned the EPA’s 2004 report on fracking, which concluded that the drilling posed no risk to water supplies. “This conclusion contradicted some of the study’s own findings,” he said, adding that the outcome was “heavily influenced by nonscientific” industry appointees made by the previous administration. In fact, he said, “There are numerous reports of water contamination related to hydraulic fracturing in states across the country.”
By contrast, John Harmon, regional vice president of the New York-New Jersey African American Chamber of Commerce, pledged his organization’s support for safe and effective drilling upstate. He cited a recent study estimating that a “full development” of the Marcellus Shale would create some 280,000 jobs over the next decade, and $6 billion in tax revenues for local, state, and federal governments. He also suggested that the taxes generated by the drilling could solve the state’s budget deficits and help alleviate the unemployment crisis facing the black community in New York, which faces a whopping unemployment rate of 14.8 percent.
Mary Sahab, of advocacy group NYH2O, countered that point. “Have we copped to such a point of such utter callousness that we must compromise the right of millions to clean water and air for the possible benefit of money and jobs? How can we possibly live without clean water and air? This is our most basic right.”
Outside the theater, a relatively well-mannered group of proponents of the drilling gathered in an area cordoned off by police sawhorses. Supporters included unions eager to share a piece of the jobs that hydrofracking would create and the money it would bring to the local economy. Meanwhile, opponents of fracking gathered in their own area down the block, brandishing signs that proclaimed, You can’t drink gas.
The meeting continues today with two final sessions in Binghamton’s Broome County Forum Theatre. Anyone wishing to submit information to the EPA on the proposed study may do so by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org by September 28.