4:19pm

Mon September 13, 2010
Marcellus shale

Live-blogging the Binghamton EPA hearing

6:51 p.m. The last word

The EPA is having a quiet evening session of its public hearings on its hydraulic fracturing study, with no big demonstrations and fewer people in attendance in the hall (though we hear Josh Fox got quite a reception). The moderator reused the jokes from his introduction in the afternoon, so he's guessing at least, that a new crowd is house. Tonight's hearing is scheduled to conclude at 10 p.m. After a long recess for New York's Primary Day, the EPA will be back in session on Wednesday, September 15.

4:19 p.m. That's all folks

The final speaker has just cited the low life expectancy of Nigeria to explain the cumulative impact of drilling in the Niger Delta ... Passions are running high, folks.

The moderator thanks everyone for an interesting and lively afternoon and the audience is invited to continued submitting comments to the EPA's website.

The Innovation Trail is on radio deadline (that's multimedia reporting, folks) so we won't be back for the evening session, but we invite you to keep the discussion going here.

3:59 p.m. Linsay Speer of the Onondaga Nation is speaking personally (not on behalf of the Onondaga). She says the original appeal from citizens for this study was asking for a wider study that went beyond hydraulic fracturing.

Nick Schoonover, who says his family has been in the area since 1790, says technology can yield natural gas that has been present for millenia. He asks the EPA to stay on the topic of fracking. This has been an ongoing point of contention -- which seems at its heart to be a discussion about the time taken for study and the amount of regulation of drilling.

At the close of her testimony, Cecile Lawrence brings up the fact that many have had to sign a confidentiality agreement with companies as part of negotiations for replacement water from their contaminated wells.

3:48 p.m. An organic farmer asks the EPA to study how contamination can move in different geologies so decisions can be carefully made to protect water supplies. EPA representative have also been accepting written documents from presenters, and on her way out, she presented a map of the aquifers in her area to the committee.

3:39 p.m. The view from outside

Small contingents of protesters from both camps are still parked in their respective zones outside the Forum Theater. Documentarian Josh Fox, of Gasland, was also curbside, chatting with hearing attendees.

Fox hadn't been inside the Forum Theater. Asked what he has been doing -- he said his day has been filled with answering questions from the media.

Fox is signed up to testify during the evening session.

3:09 p.m. Vera Scroggins from Pennsylvania, of Citizens for Clean Water, points to problems she sees in her region, near the much-mentioned Dimock. She reports heavy traffic of water trucks through Montrose.

She echoes calls to the EPA to look at the issue comprehensively, mentioning fumes from refineries she believes are making people ill. She concludes by saying there's a lot of impact, "and it's all negative."

A county employee from Pennsylvania also mentions water truck traffic as "one of many problems."

The moderator has announced not everyone will be able to speak in the alloted time. He calls speaker #69, who reads a letter from his 10-year-old neighbor to the president asking for support of the Frack Act.

2:51 p.m. A representative of the League of Women Voters has gotten up to ask for wider scope of inquiry into sources of contamination. It turns out, the League has taken up a full inquiry. Read more on the activity of the Pennsylvania League on Marcellus Shale drilling here.

2:38 p.m. We have 70 speakers left who are signed up to speak and under an hour and a half to go.

The crowd has thinned but the remaining attendees are listening closely and the speakers are still split on hydraulic fracturing. Christine Lacey gets up to say, "Marcellus is not the bogeyman. Marcellus is the key to energy independence for America."

2:27 p.m. Aaron Price, maker of documentary Gas Odyssey says solar panels and windmills will not meet today's energy needs. "Energy is life." His production assistant, Carolyn Price, then got up to continue his lesson on the history of hydraulic fracturing and record of contamination of water wells with methane predating natural gas drilling.

2:21 p.m. Craig Michaels of Riverkeeper (a clean water advocacy organization originally formed by commercial fisherman) says its new report documents 100 case studies of government-identified sites of known or suspected contamination. He says action is urgent.

Michaels asks landowners to speak to other, hard-working landowners in Dimock, Pennsylvania to see that drilling companies are selling a bill of goods they can't keep. He says they'll receive a needed warning about potential unintended consequences of leasing their land to drilling companies.

2:10 p.m. Margery Schab from Long Island has come north to say that she thinks jobs and income are no balance for polluted water and air.

Elmer Ewing of the major Tompkins County anti-drilling group Shale Shock repeats the point that horizontal drilling is a much newer hydrofracking process and that it's too soon to tell if it pollutes aquifers. "Shall your grandchildren be the canaries in the coal mine?"

He criticizes the attribution of previous incidents to "human error," as minimizing risks. What's more, "who designed the technology, androids?"

2:04 p.m. Speaker Douglas Lee says rich New Yorkers don't want fracking in their backyards. He appeals for a way to provide jobs and income to the area.

Presenter from the Town of Vestal gets up and says the pledge of allegiance. "We're all fellow Americans on the same journey ... Let us all come together as one force to move forward in a positive direction."

1:53 p.m. Landowner Lorin Cooper says farmers and landowners are also environmentalists. Cooper says he has faith in the DEC's strong regulations. Previous speakers, notably Ross Horowitz, have mentioned thin DEC staffing -- something that has been cited as an issue in Pennsylvania.  Horowitz says frackwater can be brought to drinking water standards, to some chuckles in the crowd.

He's followed by a landowner with a horizontal drill pad currently on her property who also believes drilling can proceed safely.

1:40 p.m.  Ross Horowitz presents ten seconds of silence representing: lost sounds, migratory birds, university professors attracted by the quality of life, lost tourists, young sustainable farmers.

Dan Brown of Danby says none of his fellow residents are attached to municipal water. All (and their livestock) depend on clean well-water.

1:30 p.m. The conversation has taken a turn to employment with John Harmon of the African American Chamber of Commerce making reference to the Empire State's high unemployment numbers.

Geologist Brad Gill notes there has not been a case of contamination in New York -- not the strongest claim given that little of the most controversial drilling is underway.  He also claims that the drilling industry currently employees 5,000 New Yorkers.

The moderator Adam Saslow clarifies that he is listening to speakers. He's just getting texts from other officials in the building to keep a finger on the pulse of the building.

1:15 p.m. Resident James Northrup asks the panel to look beyond the focus on fracking fluids. The gas itself is "not something I'd like to make tea with."

We're now back on track on time with speakers keeping an eye on the giant timer being projected onto a screen up front. Twitpic h/t Press and Sun's Jon Campbell.

1:02 p.m. Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan: "There is no doubt," of long-term harm if drilling is not conducted right. Ryan asks the EPA to look at cumulative impacts, particularly on air quality and industrial by-products. "There are too many unanswered questions about their disposal."

As the mayor of an upstate city, he sees the need for money but doesn't not want to sacrifice long-term health and economic well-being. Twenty years down the line, he believes people will look back at this time as a pivotal moment for the region.

12:59 p.m. Assemblywoman Donna LaPardo has the first research questions for the EPA. She would like to see research into cleaner alternatives in fracking technology.

Broome County Executive Barbara Fiala, a drilling supporter has come up to say she believes gas drilling can proceed safely. She ask that the EPA not rush, but that the study "not take forever to complete." She would like to see disclosure of frack fluid formulas.

12:57 p.m. Congressman Michale Arcuri says he believes drilling can go forward safely, but is concerned about potential problems, including notably, the treatment of abandoned wells.

12:42 p.m. Time for feedback

Representative Maurice Hinchey, who represents the 42nd district, including Broome County, where this hearing is located, has taken the podium onstage. He's talking fast to thank everyone involved in his two minutes.

Well beyond them, Hinchey calls hydraulic fracturing "harm-causing," and commends the EPA for becoming involved, and asking for a study of the issue using "the best science that we have" (applause).

He's concerned about non-scientific, political forces influencing previous studies and regulation on this issue. Absent an independent scientific analysis based on solid data, Hinchey does not believe drilling should go forward.

Amid chants of two minutes, Hinchey steps down. The Press and Sun's Jon Campbell tweets: "I think we're in for a long day."

12:24 p.m. EPA looking for case studies

The EPA is looking for nominees of sites to make case studies for its investigation. The agency is developing criteria to choose between the many options -- geologic conditions, distrance from wells and the amount of drilling activity. Following this meeting the EPA will be finalizing the draft of its study plan to present to peer reviewers and the public.

12:11 p.m. The EPA is conducting a study

Jane Briskin from the EPA has taken the lectern to explain the EPA wants a complete and transparent study. Research will begin in early 2011, with initial results in late 2010.

Dr. Robert Puls, the technical lead for the Agency's study says he's happy to finally be in New York. He has spent the last 23 years in Oklahoma and, "knows how important natural gas is to our energy future," but "is also keenly aware of the need to protect our ground water and our surface water resources."

12:02 p.m. The hearing begins

Judith Enck, director of the EPA's Region Two, which includes upstate New York says, "democracy works best when people take the time to get informed and get involved in the process." However, she asks the audience not to applaud, or to boo.

The EPA is also awaiting the release of the New York Department of Environmental Concervation's Environmental Impact Statement and understands that drilling permits will not be approved until that document comes out. The EPA itself has an agency-wide process going on to address concerns about hydraulic fracuturing. While focusing on drinking water, the EPA will also look into other issues including air emissions, road, traffic and infrastructure problems and climate change.

12 p.m. About to get under way

There are still empty seats in the Forum Theater, but Betsaida Alcantara, EPA spokesperson says almost 600 people are pre-registered for this morning's session, 1,600 over the course of the two days.

11 a.m. Waiting and watching

Outside the Binghamton Forum, anti-drilling and a much smaller but vocal, pro-drilling contingent are separated by a wide divide of empty pavement.

Things have quieted down since the environmental groups 10am press conference with 'surprise' speaker, Josh Fox. Policemen on scene are comparing notes on the protesters. "Did you see Frackenstein?"

8:30 a.m. On Scene at the Forum Theater.

The Innovation Trail is joined by press from across New York, plus reporters from the Norwegian Business Daily and Norwegian television (Norway's closely following the Chesapeake angle of upstate) Reuters, and Current TV.

Press and throng are beating a path for coffee.

Good morning from Binghamton.

The Environmental Protection Agency has arrived in Binghamton, N.Y. for the first day of its public hearing on hydraulic fracturing. The latest in a series of public meetings leading up to the agency's planned study of the natural gas drilling process got rescheduled due to concerns about cost and logistics. After a move to Syracuse, negotiations have brought it back Binghamton. And, after estimates originally floated of 8,000 attendees, the city of Binghamton expects around 2,000 people.

Watch this space for live coverage from our two reporters on the ground at the Binghamton Forum, center of today’s events. Also, stay tuned to @innovationtrail, and to our member stations for radio installments of our reporting.  You can read the stories we did leading up to the hearing  here and here and here.

Finally, while we would welcome your comments and questions, our website is still in development and not quite ready for them. We’d like to point you to our Facebook page to continue the discussion and send your feedback our way