Op-ed column: Hydrofracking hearing in Albany reveals that it’s a bad idea

The public hearing on the state’s latest Environmental Impact Statement for natural gas drilling was

The public hearing on the state’s latest Environmental Impact Statement for natural gas drilling was held Oct. 6. It went from about 9 in the morning until after 10 that night. Disclosure: Lisa Zaccaglini and I represented Sharon Springs Against Hydrofracking, and were on the final panel. It was a long and amazing day.

The hearing was held by the Assembly Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation. Chairman Robert Sweeney was there for almost all of it, focusing with herculean attention and interest. Other committee members were in and out, the most seat time banked by Daniel O’Donnell, Barbara Lifton and Brian Kavanaugh, who asked pointed and informed questions of all the witnesses, particularly those from the energy industry.

The witness list was a Who’s Who of New York environmental organizations, plus knowledgeable local politicians, scientists, food/wine marketers, economists, hydrologists, bankers, firemen, farmers, college people, sportsmen, doctors, nurses and citizens.

And for comic relief, three central-casting representatives of the energy industry appeared — a 30-something dark suit, a silken fembot and a rumpled older gentleman (still disoriented from his trip through the revolving door between government and private industry).If you still think fracking is a better idea than farming and tourism, get the DVDs of the public hearings and watch them.

Persistent issues

Recurring questions seemed to be:

— What is the hurry? One witness called this the “Fast Tracking of Gas Fracking,” another “The Cuomo Fracking Express.” Why are we having hearings on how to regulate this at the same time as discussion of whether to do it at all, both ending mid-December? There were even rumors that the next budget included projected earnings from natural gas drilling.

— Why were so many important topics NOT addressed in the revised draft of the generic EIS? (Public health issues, floodplains, pipelines, roads, waste disposal, open pits, state land drilling, cumulative impact, water withdrawal, tracking of waste by gas company, and more.) A witness called this the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Care” policy. Others suggested that the draft be scrapped and rewritten.

To those who say they are waiting for the science, I have a news flash. The science is here. To those who say we need the jobs and tax income, what with the recent hurricanes and floods and all, the fact is that the jobs go to temporary outsiders, taxes won’t cover damages, and the touted billions of dollars of investment is by the gas company, for the gas company and to the gas company.

Witnesses speak out

One witness was grateful there were no fracking pools during the recent floods — we’d have a lot more than rebuilding to do. Another said permits for shipping LNG (liquid natural gas) are pending to sell to China and Japan, so we can become a Third World colony of the energy companies, our resources shipped offshore, our land wasted, our communities turned into heavy industrial sites.

One witness stated, with barely controlled outrage, that we should not be issuing permits and regulating these companies, we should be issuing warrants and arresting them, that they are liars and terrorists, and fracking should be criminalized.

Another risked arrest as a terrorist by bringing a small vial of benzene into the room, putting a drop of it in a pitcher of water, and offering it to anyone who would drink it. When no one volunteered, he then put $20 bills down on the table as an incentive. Still no takers. He got up to $100 or so; we got the point. And benzene is only one of the hundreds of toxic and carcinogenic substances in the fracking soup that will be exploded into our connected aquifers, wells and streams.

Gas will still be there

A member of the committee pointed out that the gas under our feet isn’t going anywhere, and it won’t go bad. Waiting for a safe extraction method will do no harm, and we could become the resource for future gas as needed, when the price goes up. Meanwhile, we can keep our water pure and sell it to all those fracked areas that don’t have clean water any more. Who says politicians don’t have good ideas?

If you still think fracking is a better idea than farming and tourism, get the DVDs of the public hearings and watch them. If you still think the science isn’t in, watch them. If you still think New York will make millions of dollars and have thousands of jobs, watch them. If you still think horizontal hydrofracking is safe, watch them.

Those who are still for fracking are those who are getting something from the gas companies. Those who know even a little bit about fracking are against it. You can order the complete hearings, seven DVDs, for $10 from [the] New York State Assembly Public Information Office, Room 202, LOB, Albany, NY 12248. Put “Oct. 6, 2011 Hearings” on the check.

Watch the hearings

The best thing Sweeney’s committee could do is send every New Yorker the DVDs of these hearings. You will be amazed and entertained by the witnesses, stunned by the information, impressed by the passion and good sense of the testimony. What a resource! Don’t let this treasure be stored away in Warehouse 14 between the Holy Grail and the Ark of the Covenant. Your state is at stake.

Karen Cookson lives in Sharon Springs and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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