Buffalo Fracking Symposium Gives WNY Voice In Debate | Environment
A Statement Released by Protecting Our Water Rights
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A People’s Hearing on Fracking, a public symposium on the highly controversial natural gas drilling practice, was held at the Burchfield Penney Art Center last week. A diverse group of community, arts, and environmental groups including the new statewide coalition New Yorkers Against Fracking, came together to host the hearing, which gave a voice to Western New Yorkers, many of whom feel they have not been given a sufficient say in the state’s debate around allowing high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking). A People’s Hearing gave Western New Yorkers a chance to publicly state their views in a way that was denied to this region by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) during their Fall 2011 draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement comment period. The DEC held four public hearings downstate, but none were held in Western New York.
"DEC hearings were hours away, no legislative hearings have taken place in Erie County, and finally Governor Cuomo's hydrofracking Advisory Panel has no members from Western New York. Fracking is going to and already affects Western New York. It's time we had a voice!" said Sarah Buckley, event organizer and founder of Protecting Our Water Rights.
Fracking has been cited as a threat to surface and ground water throughout the region, and has been blamed for fatal explosions, the contamination of drinking water, local streams, the air and soil. Collateral damage includes lost property value and drying up of mortgage loans for prospective home buyers. For business owners throughout New York, this is a serious concern for their economic viability.
Larry Bennett, Ommegang Brewery Marketing and Press Relations Director, spoke at A People's Hearing: "Like all breweries, Brewery Ommegang depends on pure, clean water to make our beer. We’ve been here now for 15 years and currently brew and sell our beers in 45 states and a handful of foreign countries. We see our beers not just as fine ales, but also as emissaries for agricultural goods made in upstate New York. Our opposition to hydrofracking is a simple business decision. We want to protect our and other agricultural businesses in upstate NY who depend on clean, pure water."
Western New York would be hit hard if fracking moves forward in the state. The DEC's study currently recommends that horizontal drilling be banned entirely in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds, but no Western New York watersheds have been protected. Western New York watersheds would be susceptible to contamination from drilling operations, and local residents may be forced to rely on outdated filtration systems as a line of defense.
Also, issues around wastewater importation and gas infrastructure are of a huge concern for the area. Buffalo's neighbor, Niagara Falls, is the first location in the state to claim their desire to treat New York's chemical-laden and radioactive fracking wastewater. Western New York's proximity to Canada has already invited in fracking infrastructure through the proposed construction of a compressor station in East Aurora to move gas from Pennsylvania upwards. A type of fracking used in Collins and other southtowns has already led to water so contaminated it sets on fire. All this without also considering that this area sit atop a portion of the Marcellus shale and entirely on top of the Utica shale, which is already being 'fracked' in Ohio.
“There is a growing recognition that the state’s proposed regulations will fail to protect New York residents and the state’s drinking water supply from the toxic chemicals used in fracking. The question is now whether Governor Cuomo will listen to the oil and gas industry or the people of New York. There is a strong mandate for the Governor to put a stop to the process of opening up New York to fracking-- especially here in Western New York” said Rita Yelda, organizer for Food & Water Watch.
A People’s Hearing on Fracking brought Buffalo’s art and cultural community together with its environmental community to create an informational and fun event. "The goal was to create a synergy that will draw as many people as possible to engage in clean water issues," said event organizer and architect Brad Wales.
An exciting variety of speakers and workshops were available for public attendance and participation. The event host was Bruce Fisher, Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Studies at Buffalo State College. Nationally recognized speakers included Ruth Breech of Global Community Monitor, Dr. Jill Kriesky from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, Bill Belitskus of the Allegheny Defense Project, and former energy insider James “Chip” Northrup.
"This unique event brings together Buffalo's vibrant art community with it's powerful environmental groups, creating a family-friendly opportunity for concerned public to be heard, to network, and to enjoy interactive art," said event organizer Beth Elkins.
Family-friendly activities included children’s crafts, science experiments by environmental students led by teacher Josh Ring of Nichols School, and a children's book nook by Burning Books. Live music and theatrical performances were also a large draw. Featured artists included the 12/8 Path Band, David Kane & Nimbus Dance, Nancy Parisi, Michele Costa, The Crack Horse, and Clandestina.
"Fracking in New York is not about energy independence; it is about corporate profits for companies like Chesapeake, who are selling their leases to Chinese and European companies. They plan to export New York's gas for increased sales prices and profits," said Joe Heath, Esq. Chief Counsel For The Onondaga Nation who spoke at A People's Hearing.
For farmers, this risk of fracking in NY is also worrysome. J. Stephen Cleghorn PhD is an organic farmer, goat dairy operator and sociologist from Paradise Gardens and Farm, who also spoke at A Peoples Hearing: "Science and truth-force and the rigorous economy of Nature are on the side of we who call for a ban on fracking. Money and power are on the side of those who would destroy Nature and its protectors. It's not really a fair fight. Even if we protectors of Nature do not stop the frackers, Nature will. Nature will not be made the fool by small-minded men and women who perpetrate the despoliation of living systems for their short-term profits."
"New York has an opportunity to do what no other state other than Vermont has had the courage to do: ban fracking. In this, it will join Germany, France and Quebec in doing the right thing." added Chip Northrup, a former Planning Manager at Atlantic Richfield and speaker at A People's Hearing.