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WAMC New York News
Tue August 23, 2011
Senate drilling hearing draws crowd in Westchester County; industry officials balk at invitation to attend
Katonah, NY – The debate over expanded natural gas exploration in New York shifted to an unusual spot Tuesday. WAMC's Hudson Valley Bureau Chief attended a state hearing on the topic of hydraulic fracturing, which was held in Westchester County...
State Senator Greg Ball's district isn't a hotbed for drilling activity, but it was in his district in the lower Hudson Valley where a hearing was held on the topic of hydraulic fracturing, the process used by oil and gas companies to extract natural gas from shale formations.
Ball recently traveled to Pennsylvania to visit well sites and communities impacted by drilling accidents. He, along with State Senators Liz Krueger and Andrea Stewart-Cousins, listened to the testimony of environmental experts, homeowners impacted by drilling accidents, and even medical professionals.
One voice that wasn't heard at the hearing was that of the drilling industry in New York. In fact, officials from the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, along with the New York State Petroleum Council, released a statement detailing why they did not attend. The statement says that they have watched and read closely the recent comments made by Ball regarding the industry and its practices. It goes on to say that these pronouncements lead them to conclude that this particular forum would not provide the opportunity for a thoughtful and rational dialogue that they would otherwise hope for with Ball.
Following the hearing, the Senator clearly expressed disappointment about the declined invitation. He says the reality is that the industry has the opportunity to make billions of dollars in the state. He added that they are the ones trying to push this along in the state, and are "begging the Governor, the legislature, and everyone they can" to move forward. He then asked, "So where the hell were they?"
Ball says the industry needs to answer tough questions. When asked how he planned to get those answers, if not during a state senate sponsored hearing, Ball told WAMC News that the industry appears to have hooks at all different levels. He says legislators need to push forward and not be intimidated by the power the industry seems to have.
As for those in attendance, they heard the story of Natalie Brant, a resident of Erie County in western New York, who spoke about problems at a vertically drilled well near her home. Brant says her water was contaminated, and says she had no idea for a couple of years why her children were getting sick.
Brant says she didn't even know the well was being installed, and was critical of the response by the drilling company, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
The DEC's needs were summed up Tuesday by Robert Moore, the executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York. Moore is a member of a fracking advisory panel that is charged with the responsibility of looking at implementation of drilling regulations once they are completed. That panel met last week for the first time, and Moore told state Senators that the DEC has a daunting task before it. Moore says his organization is one of the most knowledgeable entities, when it comes to the inner workings of the DEC. He says that he was taken aback by what investment would be required to get the DEC to where it needs to be, in terms of staffing and investments.
Letter from Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York and New York State Petroleum Council regarding the hearing held Tuesday:
DEAR SENATOR BALL:
WE WRITE WITH REGARD TO YOUR HEARING SCHEDULED FOR TUESDAY, AUGUST 23, RELATIVE TO HYDRAULIC FRACTURING. IT IS WITH CONSIDERABLE REGRET THAT THE UNDERSIGNED ORGANIZATIONS MUST INFORM YOU THAT WE AND OUR MEMBER COMPANIES ARE NOT ABLE TO PARTICIPATE IN THIS HEARING. WE HAVE WATCHED AND READ CLOSELY YOUR RECENT COMMENTS REGARDING THE INDUSTRY AND ITS PRACTICES. THESE PRONOUNCEMENTS LEAD US TO CONCLUDE THAT THIS PARTICULAR FORUM DOES NOT PROVIDE THE OPPORTUNITY FOR A THOUGHTFUL AND RATIONAL DIALOGUE THAT WE WOULD OTHERWISE HOPE FOR WITH YOU.
NONETHELESS, OUR INDUSTRY - AND THE COMPANIES AND PEOPLE WHO WORK WITHIN IT - HAVE ENDEAVORED IN RECENT MONTHS TO PROVIDE MEASURED, FACTUAL INFORMATION AND RESPONSIVE INPUT TO THE PUBLIC, THE MEDIA AND ELECTED OFFICIALS AND THEIR STAFFS ON ISSUES RELATING TO THE MARCELLUS SHALE IN NEW YORK.
WE REMAIN COMMITTED TO SAFE OPERATIONS IN NEW YORK, JUST AS WE HAVE BEEN FOR MORE THAN 100 YEARS. LIKEWISE, WE LOOK FORWARD TO OTHER OPPORTUNITIES TO INFORM AN OPEN-MINDED PUBLIC ABOUT THE BENEFITS THAT NATURAL GAS DEVELOPMENT WILL HAVE ON THE STATE'S ECONOMY, EMPLOYMENT AND ENVIRONMENT.
LOOKING AHEAD, WE ARE AWAITING THE RELEASE BY THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION OF ITS REVISED DRAFT SGEIS. WE WOULD URGE YOU TO REVIEW THIS DOCUMENT. IT ESSENTIALLY ANSWERS MANY OF THE QUESTIONS YOU REPORTEDLY WANTED TO ASK THE INDUSTRY. IN ADDITION, AS A SUPPLEMENTARY DOCUMENT, THE SGEIS ALSO HAS A FACT SHEET, "WHAT WE LEARNED IN PENNSYLVANIA," WHICH IS VERY INSTRUCTIVE. ONCE THE SGEIS IS ISSUED, WE WILL PREPARE AND SUBMIT OUR COMMENTS IN A TIMELY MANNER. WE SHALL ALSO CONTINUE TO PROVIDE DEC STAFF WITH INFORMATION AND RESPOND TO THEIR QUESTIONS. IT HAS BEEN A VERY THOROUGH AND COMPLEX UNDERTAKING THAT HAS BEEN UNDERWAY FOR MORE THAN THREE YEARS.
IT IS OUR STRONG OPINION THAT WHEN THE SGEIS PROCESS HAS BEEN COMPLETED, NEW YORK WILL HAVE A PROGRAM THAT WILL CONTINUE TO PROVIDE FOR SAFE NATURAL GAS DRILLING IN THE STATE'S MARCELLUS SHALE REGION IN A MANNER THAT IS ENVIRONMENTALLY SAFE AND THAT WILL PROVIDE TREMENDOUS OPPORTUNITIES FOR ALL NEW YORKERS.