Panelists pan economic boon from gas drilling

NORWICH – The tone teetered back and forth between anti and pro drilling sentiments Thursday night at an informational forum on the economic impacts of natural gas drilling.

Approximately 130 people filled the sanctuary of the United Church of Christ in Norwich for the event. It was the fourth in a series of free, public forums sponsored by Chenango Community Action For Renewable Energy, a community education group that aims to explore a full range of energy sources, not just natural gas.

Despite a couple of outbursts from the audience, the presentation and question and answer session was, for the most part, civil. Media reports had warned of the opposite. Rev. Joseph Connolly called for “a respectful and responsible” exchange at the forum’s onset.

Panelist Nicole Dillingham, a Cooperstown-based attorney, delved into a powerpoint presentation that refuted her “favorite myths” about high water volume hydraulic fracturing, the highly-contested method needed to release natural gas from the Marcellus and other shale formations. Dillingham said the debate was not a Liberal versus a Conservative issue, but a matter of “stealing your children’s future.”

“The gas is not going to go away. Don’t exploit it now, there’s no hurry. The truly patriotic activity would be to preserve it for our future resource needs,” she said, contesting that shale gas developed today in Pennsylvania and elsewhere was being shipped overseas and would not be used domestically.

The hydraulic fracturing process in drilling for shale gas forces a highly-pressurized mixture of water, soap, sand and some chemicals through a well bore reaching more than a mile below the subsurface. The types and quantities of chemicals used in the mixture, the amount of radium and other heavy metals released from underground and whether toxic elements end up in the water table has become a matter of national debate. Well workers have suffered injuries and even death from drilling-related accidents and residents have complained about methane in their drinking water and health issues associated with air and water pollution. Energy companies and state environmental authorities say the process can be safely regulated.

Dillingham said proponents of the oil and gas industry have misled the population into thinking that no incidents of contamination have been attributed to gas drilling; that government agencies will protect us; that formation and fracturing wastewater can be treated safely; and that local governments need merely rely on the state to protect their infrastructure.

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