As I blogged last Friday, yesterday was the first of two days of hearings being held by the federal Environmental Protection Agency in New York on the controversial gas production technology of hydraulic fracturing, commonly called “fracking.” The official purpose of the meeting was for EPA to solicit public input into the scope of the first-ever, credible and comprehensive study of fracking’s risks that the agency is about to undertake. New York – the latest front in the fracking battle nationwide, and ground zero for the ongoing debate over shale gas development – is the location of the last of four hearings like this that EPA has held ahead of the study.
Hundreds of people showed up in Binghamton yesterday, representing a full range of interests – from those who would support a full-on ban on fracking, to those who want to be sure we have a full understanding of the risks and how they might be managed if fracking gets a green light here, to those who believe drilling in New York’s Marcellus Shale promises much-desired revenue that can’t come fast enough. Although passions on this issue run very high, the assembled were respectful and the overall tone was measured. EPA should be commended for running the meeting in a way that helped keep the discourse civil and the comments, for the most part, on the substance.
As expected, those on the “don’t rush to drill” side of the aisle sounded a strong call for EPA to take its mandate very seriously and to conduct a thorough, broad-based study that examines the full range of impacts associated with gas development. This means EPA must take the full measure of the risks into account, rather than looking at them piecemeal as has been done in the past. It must consider the full production process of which fracking is an integral and inextricable component – this touches on everything from increased air pollution and traffic from trucks, to toxic wastewater generation, treatment and disposal, to contamination risks to major municipal water supplies (like New York City’s) and private drinking water wells.
While industry is encouraging EPA to narrow the study’s scope, not only would this squander a unique opportunity but it is short-sighted on industry’s part. If, in fact, gas production using fracking is as harmless as the companies claim, they should welcome a broad-based study that demonstrates its safety.
A pre-hearing rally featured motivating speakers and some great homemade signs. Here are some of my favorites:
Tomorrow marks day 2 of EPA’s hearings in Binghamton. There was plenty of opportunity to sign up on the spot to testify yesterday, so anyone who hasn’t pre-registered but wants to speak should show up at the Broome County Forum Theater and be heard. This is New York’s chance to tell EPA we need their help to keep us from following in the footsteps of other states that have seen contaminated drinking water, dead livestock, and devastated landscapes.
And nationally this is a unique opportunity for our federal environmental regulators to give fracking – which is an inherently environmentally intense technology – a hard look to determine just what are the risks and whether they can be properly managed. All eyes will be on EPA to do the study right, taking the time it needs and ensuring the results are unbiased and scientifically sound. So far, indications are good that the agency is taking its mandate seriously, but by adding your voice to the debate you can help make sure it stays on track. And please tell your representatives in Congress to ensure the study is fully funded and to encourage EPA to make the study as broad-based possible.