Streams

Hydrofracking meetings let public question drillers

Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - 05:25 PM

By Innovation Trail's Marie Cusick

Representatives from the natural gas drilling industry took questions from the public about hydrofracking in Geneva, N.Y. on Tuesday night. (Marie Cusick / WMHT)

Today the New York Department of Environmental Conservation begins tohold public hearings about its rules to govern hydrofracking. But yesterday marked a different kind of forum about fracking: a public meeting hosted by the natural gas industry.

Geneva, N.Y. was the sixth stop in a series of seven public meetings called "Fuel for Thought" hosted by New York's Independent Oil and Gas Association (IOGA), a trade group representing drilling companies. About 50 people turned out to a junior high school last night, as a panel of representatives from the drilling industry took the stage for a question and answer session about hydrofracking.

Adam Schultz, an attorney from Syracuse, was one of the panelists. He told the audience that concerns about hydrofracking often arise because it's unfamiliar.

"Once people see it can touch it, feel it, they become more comfortable with it," Schultz said.

A number of environmental groups have called for a permanent, statewide ban on hydrofracking, citing concerns about its potential to pollute water supplies. The DEC is still in the midst of reviewing its own set of regulations, which currently prohibit the practice in the Syracuse and New York City watersheds.

Questions about chemicals

Cherie Messore is IOGA's director of public relations and said the industry has been unfairly targeted.

"There is a great deal of misinformation in our society about this process called hydraulic fracturing," she said.

Most of the concerns people raised at the meeting were about the chemicals used in the process, and how they would affect water and public health. One woman stood up to ask how the toxic chemicals from the used water, known as frack fluid, would be disposed of.

John Holko, chair of IOGA's public education committee replied that the chemicals can be managed safely.

"You can use the word 'toxic.' You can use the word 'chemical'," Holko said,  "[But] when you use the word 'toxic chemical' you now have to talk about concentration and exposure ... sunlight causes cancer. The reference to things like cancer and toxicity have to be taken in context of what you're trying to explain."

Another man from the audience approached the microphone to ask whether the drilling companies are fully disclosing all the chemicals they're using. Holko said that the regulatory agencies do know which chemicals are used.

"The specific chemical components are required to be given to the DEC. Everyone will know about them. Everyone can see them. What we design, and what the DEC regulates is the handling of this material and the ability to basically control it."

"Self-regulation" is best

Another man from the audience asked Holko if he supports less government oversight: "Is your organization or any part of it providing money to candidates that want to reduce regulation?"

Holko replied that, personally, he does favor less regulation.

"Yeah, I give money to guys that want to reduce regulation ... in some regards, the best regulation is self-regulation," he said.

Another man asked if the jobs and economic benefits created by hydrofracking will stick around for very long. Holko told the crowd that he's been working here since the mid-eighties.

"When you have the infrastructure being developed by energy, you end up building from the ground up," Holko said,  "It's one of the few products [and] one of the few businesses in this country that starts with a piece of land, and something owned by the individual, and turns it into value."

IOGA's final "Fuel for Thought" meeting will be in Corning on December 6th

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