Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fracking Hearings Begin in NY

New York residents and state officials are gearing up for the hydrofracking hearings that begin this week. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is holding four official hearings on the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) regarding high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing in shales.

DEC hearings will be held on Wednesday at the Dansville Middle School auditorium and Thursday at The Forum Theatre in Binghamton. Two additional hearings will be held later this month in Sullivan County and New York City.

But some communities are holding their own “public hearings” sans DEC officials. About 400 people showed up last Thursday, November 10 at the State University College at Oneonta for a public hearing organized by the City of Oneonta, the Otsego County Conservation Association and Otsego 2000. State Senator James Seward opened the public forum by criticizing the SGEIS, saying they offer uneven and inadequate protection to most upstate New Yorkers.

A stenographer recorded public testimony to submit to state officials, who are expected to give it the same consideration as comments taken at the four upcoming DEC hearings.

The Tompkins County Council of Governments has decided to sponsor a public hearing on Thursday, December 1 in Ithaca’s State Theatre. As with the Oneonta hearing, a stenographer will record comments to submit to DEC. This hearing runs pretty late, though – from 7 to 11 pm. Plan on showing up around 6:30 to get a good seat and sign up to comment.

This week's DEC hearings could be crowded. If you hope to speak at this Thursday’s hearing in Binghamton, plan to arrive early and sign in. Speakers will be limited to three minutes.

You don’t have to speak to get your voice heard – written comments carry equal weight. According to DEC the agency has already received 4,200-plus comments. The draft SGEIS generated around 14,000 comments so DEC expects more to arrive as the December 12 deadline approaches.

As for drilling permits for high-volume horizontal hydrofracking – they’re on hold until the environmental review is finalized. At last report DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens said it’s not clear whether any will be issued in 2012.

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