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Drilling issue started quietly in Tompkins, then went out loud


In Ithaca and Tompkins County, the conversation about natural gas development has been dominated by those opposed to hydro-fracturing and concerned about New York State's environmental regulations.

The year started with just a relatively few activists from Shaleshock, a citizens' coalition concerned about horizontal hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale, presenting at town meetings, writing letters to the editor, and trying to draw attention to an issue that was still under many people's radar.

As the year went on, Shaleshock, the Tompkins County Council of Governments, the League of Women Voters, and others hosted meetings with scientists, environmental attorneys, a New York City environmental planner, people who'd signed gas leases, and those who never would.

In early November, Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting, publicized a list of 270 accidents and spills related to oil and gas drilling. The spill reports, pulled from the Department of Environmental Conservation's databases, formed the basis of Hang's argument that the state's newest environmental regulations should be withdrawn until existing regulations are strengthened.

Hang's report generated national attention, including an interview on the radio program "Democracy Now," support from the National Resources Defense Council, and scorn from the gas industry lobbying group Energy in Depth, which sent out a press release in mid-December titled "Lies, Damned Lies, and Walter Hang's Statistics."

A Nov. 19 public hearing at the State Theatre drew 1,000 people, and a Dec. 5 "Life is Water" benefit concert for Shaleshock drew 1,600 and raised $10,000.

Within the past month, organizations such as the Tompkins County Health Department, Environmental Management Council, Tompkins County Legislature, City of Ithaca Common Council, and Ithaca Town Board have all submitted comments intensely critical of the state's gas drilling regulations, and some have gone so far as to say the regulations should be withdrawn and sent back to the drawing board.

Concerns range from wastewater storage and disposal to the unfunded mandate that could be placed on local municipalities to regulate multinational energy corporations.