Fracking debated at hearing in Binghamton

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. (AP) – Speakers at a state hearing on natural gas drilling Thursday drew conflicting images of the industry’s impact in nearby Pennsylvania, with drilling advocates touting jobs and prosperity and opponents describing a despoiled landscape and ruined water wells.

With frequent interruptions for catcalls and applause, only 63 people got a chance to weigh in on proposed natural gas-drilling rules during a three-hour hearing attended by more than 1,000 people Thursday in Binghamton, the expected epicenter of drilling in New York’s part of the Marcellus Shale.

Stephen Herz, a Broome County legislator, farmer, and former teacher, said his former students have been unable to find employment near home but some quickly found well-paying jobs in the natural gas business in Pennsylvania, where Marcellus Shale development has been under way since 2008.

“Our farms are shutting down and being sold to speculators. Our rural areas, quite frankly, are becoming wastelands. We’re laying off teachers, curtailing programs,” Herz said. He said natural gas development would provide much-needed jobs and revenues.

Craig Sautner, one of 11 homeowners from Dimock, Pa., suing Cabot Oil & Gas over contamination of their wells, offered a cautionary tale to those who think drilling has been a blessing in Pennsylvania. “I’ve been living with a contaminated well now for more than three years,” he said.

Chris Oliver of Bainbridge, member of the Central New York Landowners Coalition, said his group spent three years investigating claims about gas-drilling problems and decided the claims were overblown. “We’ve come to an informed, educated conclusion,” he said. “We are pro-drilling, pro-fracking, and most of all, pro landowner rights.”

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