Opponents of hydraulic fracturing dominated the microphone at a public hearing Thursday night at the downtown State Theatre.
Sponsored by the Tompkins County Council of Governments, the event was made up of public comment concerning the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s revised review on the environmental impacts of fracking and potential regulations.
Dominic Frongillo, a member of the Town Council of Caroline and of TCCOG, acted as the moderator for the event. Frongillo said the TCCOG organized the hearing to provide a forum for local citizens not always offered at the DEC-sponsored hearings. The DEC did not assist in the expense of the hearing, he said, which cost the council of governments about $5,000 to hold.
Members of the community were permitted to voice their comments and concerns with the DEC’s impact review for up to three minutes. The line to speak wrapped around the side of the State Theater and stretched close to a half mile to almost reach Pizza Aroma on South Cayuga Street.
The community harshly criticized the DEC’s 1,537-page review, with some speakers asking for a complete and permanent moratorium by the DEC and others requesting significantly more research and time to be spent before a decision on fracking is made.
The Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) is a continuation of the original report released in 2009. A significant change in this new draft, released in September, is a fracking ban within the watersheds of New York City and Syracuse. The report includes research pertaining to environmental, health, economic and other factors impacted by the potential introduction of natural gas drilling in New York.
Fracking, a natural gas extraction process that pumps millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals into the ground, has raised public fear of water contamination and other accidents. Supporters of fracking promote natural gas as a clean energy and an opportunity to relieve the United States’ dependence on foreign resources. Proponents point to potential economic benefits for both the homeowner — in the form of royalty checks — and the local area — in the form of job creation.
Speaking on behalf of Rep. Maurice Hinchey, Dan Lamb, a member of Hinchey’s staff, said the congressman supports a statewide ban or home rule, where local governments choose whether to allow fracking. He said there have been several negative occurrences since the DEC’s previous study that are not yet reflected in the revision.
“We have learned much more about hydraulic fracturing since 2009,” Lamb said. “More incidents of broken industry promises, harm to local communities, air pollution and water contamination have been reported.”
Members of the Ithaca College campus community were well represented at the hearing, as nearly a dozen students supported a rally on The Commons before the hearing’s 7 p.m. start. The rally brought together about 40 community members.
Ren Ostry, a junior environmental studies major and member of ‘Occupy Ithaca College,’ helped lead the rally. She said the ‘occupy’ movement held the rally to stand in solidarity with those protesters opposed to fracking.
Ostry said the City of Ithaca has become her home, and she wanted to show her support and listen to what local residents are thinking and feeling about fracking.
“These are my community members,” Ostry said. “Tonight, they’re all anti-fracking, but whether they agree or disagree with me, this is my community. The whole purpose of this is to value people over profits, and I want to hear what they have to say.”
Sandra Steingraber, distinguished scholar in residence at the college in environmental studies and sciences, said the environmental health problems associated with fracking were largely absent in the DEC report.
“Rather than assess the health impacts of fracking using the protocols of public health science, the SGEIS simply denies that these impacts exist,” Steingraber said. “Certainly the regulations proposed in the SGEIS do not protect my children. In fact, the word ‘children’ and the word ‘pediatric’ does not even appear in the document.”
Concerns ranged from health to environment to the economy, but one consistent theme remained — the people of Ithaca and the Fingers Lakes region did not find the DEC report to be acceptable, and they will continue to fight fracking in the area.
A stenographer recorded the comments made at the hearing to submit to the official record collected by the DEC. The comment period was recently extended into January, and brochures were passed around the audience for those who chose not to speak.