Proponents and opponents of hydraulic fracturing will have the chance to voice their opinions when the Environmental Protection Agency discusses its upcoming study of the relationship between fracking and cleanliness of drinking water Monday and Wednesday at the Broome County Forum Theatre in Binghamton, N.Y.
Fracking is a common process oil and gas companies use to tap into natural gas deposits. Natural gas is moved from underground rock formations to wells, by injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the rock, creating small pathways that release natural gas.
Signs and protests opposing fracking started showing up in early 2009 in Ithaca and the Southern Tier, which rest on the Marcellus Shale, a subterranean rock formation filled with natural gas.
Matt Ryan, mayor of the City of Binghamton, announced that two areas will be designated for pro- and anti-fracking citizens to stage demonstrations and rallies outside of the meeting, according to a press release from the City of Binghamton.
The information gathered from the EPA’s study will be used to identify any possible risks connected to fracking.
Four public meetings were scheduled to accompany the release of the study. The September meeting, originally scheduled for Aug. 12, is the fourth and final meeting of the EPA’s public presentations. It will be followed by oral and written comments from registered speakers on the fracking study.
“This is a proactive measure to balance our commitments to safety and public assembly,” Ryan said in the release. “We expect that announcing this step well ahead of time will make everything smoother once the meetings take place.”
Joyce Lovelace, a member of Neighbors United For the Fingerlakes, an anti-fracking organization, said the staging areas are an important way for citizens to have the opportunity to be involved and get their voices heard.
“Since there is a limited number of people who can speak at the meeting, for this and any issue really that people have strong opinions on, it’s important to show up and show to the public and elected officials that this is an issue that is important and that people should be engaged in,” Lovelace said.
Lovelace said anti-fracking groups and other individuals will be present to speak in the meeting and then gather outside to protest hydraulic fracking, which some view to be unsafe for the environment.
Located just a few blocks away from anti-fracking groups will be pro-fracking groups like Energy In Depth, an educational coalition of independent petroleum producers from across the United States.
Chris Tucker, spokesman for Energy In Depth, said New York state has been using hydraulic fracking for 50 years for many oil and gas operations, as well as Superfund cleanups. He said the technology is safe.
“[Hydraulic fracking] is the Rosetta Stone of oil and gas development in America today and has been for a while,” Tucker said. “[Energy In Depth’s] job is to explain the technology, understand its importance in the context of shale and try to make a change using the best science that we have.”
Tucker said while the EPA’s public meetings are a helpful way to inform the public of the scope of the study, the decision to fulfill the study is already set, and staging demonstrations and rallies outside of the venues is a wasted effort. Tucker said Energy In Depth will be present to provide information to people questioning the study.
Senior Emma Hileman, an environmental studies major and student coordinator for Ithaca College Natural Lands, said while the demonstration is a good way for both sides to make their presence known, the communication just isn’t present.
“It’s good, publicity-wise, probably for both sides in a way, but … coming together and talking about it is probably a better option at this point,” she said. “Both sides are really frustrated because of the lack of knowledge.”
Hileman said she opposes fracking, mainly because of the conflicting information available to the public.
“I don’t think there’s enough truthful information out there to make a final decision on fracking right now,” she said. “In the long term I don’t think fracking is the answer and if people really cared about our future generations, then they would come up with a way better option.”
With help from ICNL, Hileman brought members of Shaleshock Action Alliance, a grassroots organization, to campus in the spring. The organization gave a presentation covering the basics of fracking.
She said she hopes to gather a group of students to bring an Ithaca College presence to the demonstrations in Binghamton.
“We are trying to be a source of information [on campus] for students, faculty and staff,” she said. “[Faculty and staff] might even be more affected because they live here year-round, but it’s an issue that students can take up and at least get more information about so that they’re aware of what this issue is all about in Tompkins County.”