At first blush, it’s
understandable why the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
chose not to schedule a public hearing in Western New York on its proposed
scheme to permit and regulate deep-well, horizontal hydraulic fracturing for natural
gas in the state’s Marcellus Shale: Most of the drilling would occur in the
Southern Tier and the Finger Lakes region, where the Marcellus formation
reaches. Though for decades Western
New York has been the site of conventional fracking for natural gas, the
controversial new technology is not an immediate likelihood in this region.
On the other hand, environmental issues in one
part of the state are (or should be) of concern to everyone else in the state,
as well as in neighboring states and Canada. There are also the issues of water
withdrawal and wastewater disposal associated with fracking, which very likely
will impact this region directly. Down the road, too, there is the possibility
that gas drillers will turn to fracking the Utica Shale, which runs through
Western New York, and in all likelihood the regulatory scheme proposed last
year by DEC would govern those efforts, too.
All this precipitated an idea among a group
of local activists: If the DEC would not schedule a public hearing in Western
New York, why not hold our own?
The result is A People’s Hearing on
Fracking, which takes place this Saturday, June 2, 10am-4pm, and the
Burchfield Penney Art Center on the Buffalo State College campus. The event is
free and open to the public.
The program opens in the morning with a
series of speakers, hosted by Bruce Fisher, a visiting professor of
economics and director of the Center for Policy Studies at Buffalo State
College (and a columnist for this newspaper). Following his introductory
presentation will be Dr. Jill Kriesky, an economist at the University of
Pittsburgh’s Center for Healthy Environments and Communities; Joseph Heath,
Esq., chief counsel to the Onondaga Nation; J. Stephen Cleghorn, PhD,
a sociologist and organic farmer from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus region; Luella
Kenney, a former resident of Love Canal; Ruth Breech, program
director from Global Community Monitor in El Cerrito, California; and James
“Chip” Northrup, a veteran of the oil and gas industry who has become a
leading critic of fracking as practiced by his industry in the Marcellus Shale.
Following Northrup’s presentation, several of
the organizers of the People’s Hearing will make brief presentations, and then
the hearing itself will begin: Any and all in attendance, regardless of their
views or vantage points, are invited to sign up for three-minute speaking slots
between, roughly, 1:30pm and 4pm. (To sign up for a slot, visit www.peopleshearing.com.)
If there are more speakers than there is time available at the podium,
testimony will be gathered outside the auditorium on video.
The final speaker of the day is Larry
Bennett of Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, in the heart of New York’s
Simultaneous to the hearing, there will be a
series of workshops in the Burchfield’s various meeting rooms on topics ranging
from air quality testing to renewable energy and feed-in tariffs. These, too,
are open to the public.
In the meantime, Buffalo’s artistic and
cultural community will add its voice to the proceedings: Featured artists will
include the 12/8 Path Band, David Kane & nimbus dance,
photographer Nancy Parisi, puppeteer Michele Costa, the crack
horse, and Clandestina, among others. There will be craft and
science experiments for children, too, a children’s book nook hosted by Burning
Books, and a delegation of students from the Nichols School
presenting science demonstrations on the effects of fracking.
The proceedings will be streamed live on the
web and archived. The entire schedule of events is available at www.peopleshearing.com.
Come by and listen; stay all day or stay for a while. If you’d like to speak,
sign up soon—time slots are disappearing quickly.