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Source: Albany Times Union

Fracking foes drill no-show industry


Posted: August 24, 2011
Originally Published: August 24, 2011

KATONAH -- Opponents of natural gas hydrofracking turned out at a state hearing Tuesday on the issue, including the director of the documentary "Gasland."

But drilling industry representatives remained a no-show, claiming the event was not "thoughtful and rational."

Sponsored by state Sen. Greg Ball, R-Putnam County, the three-hour hearing featured Josh Fox, whose Oscar-nominated film has galvanized hydrofracking opponents across the country. The industry, which insists the drilling process is safe, has assailed the film's accuracy. Hydrofracking involves injecting a high-pressure mix of chemicals, sand and water deep underground to crack gas-bearing rock.

"Their unwillingness to participate in this hearing is an indictment on the industry," Ball said in a statement. "I want to know what they're afraid of. What do they have to hide?" Ball recently visited Pennsylvania gas drilling sites with Fox.

Fox attacked the gas drilling industry for reaching legal settlements with people who claim their drinking water was tainted by drilling that bar landowners from speaking after the deal.

That happened to Amee Ellsworth, a Colorado resident who was able to light her tap water on fire in one of movie's most discussed scenes. The family said it began taking showers in the dark because of concerns a lighting fixture would trigger an explosion in the bathroom.

Now, Ellsworth is legally barred under her settlement with a drilling company from discussing the situation. "You should not be able to sign away your First Amendment rights because you are cornered by a large corporation," said Fox, who was filming the hearing for his planned "Gasland" sequel. "Gas companies are making these kinds of records disappear, so they can repeat their mantra that there has been no proven case of water contamination from hydrofracking. ... Amee Ellsworth's test of her drinking water has been removed from the public record, but I still have a copy of it."

Absent from the hearing was the gas drilling industry, which declined an invitation from Ball, a Westchester County Republican.

"We have watched and read closely your recent comments regarding the industry and its practices. These pronouncements lead us to conclude that this particular forum does not provide the opportunity for a thoughtful and rational dialogue that we would otherwise hope for with you," wrote Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York Executive Director Brad Gill and the New York State Petroleum Council Executive Director Michael Doyle.

Adrianne Esposito, director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, told Ball said that the industry's absence was "a message to you, loud and clear. The truth seeks to be heard, while lies seek to be hidden."

Esposito, who was a member of the energy transition team for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, urged the state to undo a 2005 policy of "compulsory integration," in which if a majority of landowners on a drilling area agree to lease their property, the minority that is against it are forcibly included under the leases.

Esposito also called on the state to consider the cumulative impacts of a gas drilling boom across the gas-rich Marcellus Shale, which stretches from the western Catskills, and through the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier almost as far west as Buffalo.

A study of the eight-county Finger Lakes region by Esposito's group found that 600,000 acres -- almost a third of all the land -- was under lease by gas drilling companies. The state Department of Environmental Conservation did not know about the extent of leased land there, she said.

"Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is dangerous," Esposito said.