By Mary Esch, Associated Press
NEW YORK -- Gas-drilling opponents including actor Mark Ruffalo and "Gasland" documentary producer Josh Fox called for a ban on gas development using hydraulic fracturing at a New York state hearing on drilling regulations Wednesday.
As the hearing began, the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation announced that the 90-day comment period on its 1,537-page review of the environmental impacts of shale gas drilling and proposed regulations has been extended to 120 days, ending Jan. 11.
Environmental groups have criticized the agency for developing regulations too quickly with too little time for public comment, while industry proponents say 3.5 years of study is more than enough.
Fears of contamination of New York City's watershed prompted a moratorium on drilling permits in 2008, when the state began a review of regulations.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, injects millions of gallons of chemical-laced water into a well to release gas. Opponents fear accidents and contamination, while the industry touts its safety record.
Some speakers at the hearing criticized specific parts of the state's environmental study, saying it failed to tally health impacts of large-scale gas development or assess potential adverse economic impacts. Others used their three-minute time limit to scold regulators for even considering allowing fracking to go forward.
"Why are we wasting so much state money, time and energy wallowing around in the radioactive muck pit of gas drilling when what this state needs and wants is renewable energy?" said Ruffalo, an environmental activist. "We need leaders with imagination and courage that are going to face our energy problems with some bold and progressive ideas, not lickspittles to the energy industry's lobbyists."
State Sen. Tony Avella, author of a bill that would prohibit fracking in New York state, said the costs of properly regulating the industry outweigh the potential economic benefits.
"The risk of catastrophic danger to the environment, the health of new York state residents and adverse economic impacts as a result of hydraulic fracturing far outweigh the potential for job creation and promotion of a natural gas alternative to oil," Avella said.
Numerous speakers denounced Gov. Andrew Cuomo for allowing fracking. Outside the hearing, protesters carried signs saying
"Governor Cuomo: in 2014 we'll remember. No fracking!"
Calls for a ban on fracking or even criminalization of the technology were greeted at the hearing with applause and the finger-wiggling popularized by the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The few speakers in favor of gas development were interrupted repeatedly with boos, catcalls and loud coughing despite stern warnings against such behavior by the judge overseeing the session.
One of those shouted down was Arthur Kremer, chairman of New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance and a former Long Island assemblyman.
"At this moment, the state of Pennsylvania is eating our lunch," Kremer said outside the hearing. "They're raising millions of dollars in local communities from hydrofracking. It's not an industrial wasteland. They are having a great time at the expense of New York state."
"It's not fair for downstate people to impose their will on the people of upstate New York who want it and need it," Kremer said.
George Lee, a Cortland County Christmas tree farmer, was drowned out by booing, laughter, and shouts of "science!" and "solar!" as he spoke in favor of gas development. Later, outside the hearing, he said he didn't have gas leases on his land and didn't represent the industry. "I just believe the resource should be developed," he said.
Opposition was balanced more equally with support for gas drilling at the three previous DEC hearings, held in upstate communities where some landowners hope to cash in on an anticipated gas boom similar to that going on in other Marcellus Shale states, including Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Proponents cite the dire need for jobs and economic development in depressed regions of the state.
In Binghamton, the expected epicenter of drilling if it's allowed to go forward, advocates yelled "Drill baby drill" as opponents chanted "No fracking way" outside a theater where more than 1,000 people packed the DEC hearing.
If the regulations are enacted, drilling in the Marcellus Shale in upstate New York could begin next year.