Hydrofracking hearings begin: Do you support or oppose it?

The hydrofracking debate took center stage in Central New York Wednesday afternoon, as opponents help a rally in the Finger Lakes.

They gathered outside Dansville Middle School where the Department of Environmental Conservation held the first of four public hearings on the controversial issue.

Hydrofracking involves highly pressurized water mixed with chemicals being injected into rock formations.

Those opposed to natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale in southern New York are watching these hearings closely. And so too are its supporters.

Natural gas companies say hydrofracking is safe and allows them to tap into a large amount of natural gas that would otherwise be inaccessible. An industry group claims the regulations as drafted here in New York would be so restrictive that drillers would avoid the state.

But critics fear the chemicals can contaminate groundwater, arguing they would cause health dangers for neighbors nearby. Environmental groups say the current rules are too lax to protect public health and the environment. Which side do you agree with?

On our Facebook page, " data-hovercard="/ajax/hovercard/user.php?id=685929293"}Loren Milch Larkin said, "Just look at the places it's been done. Poisoned water in Pa, Wyoming etc. And with water being in short supply all over the world, is it a good idea to destroy what's left? In in the Gulf they said oil wells were safe and we all know how that turned out."

Another fan, " data-hovercard="/ajax/hovercard/user.php?id=1556746557"}Susy Martins O'Rourke, said, "If the EPA has already shown a link between tracking and cancer causing agents, why would we even consider it? If we're all dead, there's no need for the energy source anyways!"

So far, the state has refused to issue permits for drilling in the lucrative Marcellus Shale formation. That's since 2008 when it started reviewing hydrofracking. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner has said fracking is the most important environmental issue on the table here in New York and permits won't be issued until his agency has the resources in place to enforce rules for doing it safely. Right now, a state panel is working to determine how much it will cost for state and local governments to oversee the development of thousands of wells, and how that money can be raised.

Landowners eager to make money from their gas leases have expressed frustration that New York is taking so long to develop regulations, while across the border in Pennsylvania, gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale has been going strong since 2008, resulting in several reports of water wells contaminated by migrating methane. The shale deposit also extends under parts of West Virginia, where drilling is also under way, and Ohio, where leases are being sold.

The vast formation, the largest natural gas field in the country, promises to deliver relatively cheaper natural gas to close customers in the energy-hungry Northeast and create hundreds of well-paying jobs in an economically depressed region.

Wednesday's hearing locally came as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a new report, giving credence to the opposition. The report finds groundwater monitoring wells in part of the state of Wyoming show high levels of cancer causing compounds and chemicals associated with the controversial gas drilling technique.

On our Facebool page, " data-hovercard="/ajax/hovercard/user.php?id=1399339781"}Andrea Creighton said, "As long as there is any debate of the long term effects I am against it. In the past people didn't think about we effected the planet and we are still cleaning up after them. We need to be responsible for our actions now, not later."

Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, said in a statement released Tuesday that New York's moratorium on Marcellus gas wells has hurt the small business community. He said the proposed regulations will do further harm by adding up to $1 million to the development cost of each well. "Energy companies across the state have been safely operating, with prudent environmental oversight, for decades," Gill said. "Despite a long-term history of competence and regulatory compliance, many small energy companies may simply be driven from the opportunities within their own state due to extraordinary costs," said John Holko, president of Lenape Resources, a Genesee County gas-drilling company that employs six people.

Environmental groups counter that the regulatory process is going too fast, given the complexity of the issue, and that the DEC proposal has numerous flaws. "We have concerns about the decision to ban drilling in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds, but to allow it in the watersheds of many other residents," said Emily Wurth of Food and Water Watch. "We don't think this practice can be safely regulated." "We're still looking to the state to look at the true cost of fracking to our communities," said Katherine Nadeau of Environmental Advocates. "The state continues to assess the impacts on a well pad by well pad basis. They haven't really looked at the air quality and water impact on communities if we have thousands of these well pads."

On Twitter, Cindy Boyd tweeted, "Let's get real and responsibly use our natural resources; the real source of this country's wealth!"

State Senator James Seward, an Otsego County Republican, is co-sponsoring a "home rule" bill that would allow communities to pass local laws banning fracking. A number of municipalities have already enacted such bans, even though they violate the state's mining law. Anschutz Explorations, a Denver-based oil and gas company, has filed a lawsuit challenging the town of Dryden's ban.

The next hearing will be held in Binghamton on Thursday followed by more hearings in Sullivan County on November 29 and New York City on November 30.

Where do you stand on the issue of hydrofracking? Do you support or oppose it? Why? Is it an untapped natural resource that will bring thousands of jobs and money to the state? Or is it too dangerous to allow? How much governmental oversight does there need to be? Leave your thoughts below.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this article.