Fracking forum draws standing-room crowd

Post forum survey indicates residents oppose controversial energy process by more than six-to-one

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  • Photo courtesy of Michael Jay This photograph shows part of the overflow crowd that filled Town Hall for Sustainable Warwick's Informational Forum on fracking last week.

  • Photo courtesy of Michael Jay Forum moderator Geoff Howard, right, goes over forum ground rules with speakers Carl Arnold, left, and John Conrad, center.

— Last Thursday evening, about 150 people, many of them Warwick residents, turned out for an informational forum sponsored by Sustainable Warwick entitled: “Fracking—Pros and Cons: What Warwick needs to know.”

Fracking is the controversial process for extracting natural gas from deep shale beds.

While fracking is being practiced in several states, concerns with both environmental and health issues have so far delayed approval in New York State.

That decision, however, is expected in the next few months. Meanwhile, 130 municipalities in New York have either banned fracking or instituted a moratorium against the process.

Dr. William Makofske, member of Sustainable Warwick and professor emeritus of physics, began the forum with a brief explanation of the fracking process and some of the controversies surrounding it. The forum featured two speakers representing the opposing points of view.

John Conrad

Hydrogeologist John Conrad, a member of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of NY, spoke for the “pro” side of the argument.

While he was candid in speaking of the risks associated with any drilling operation, he concluded that most of those risks could be successfully managed and on balance, the potential benefits outweighed the risks.

Conrad also gave the issue local context with maps that show Marcellus Shale formations not only throughout western New York but coming as close as Delaware, Sullivan and western Orange counties. The deeper, gas-laden Utica Shale, which is under Warwick, is at this time not economically drillable.

Carl Arnold

Carl Arnold of the Sierra Club’s Gas Drilling Task Force argued that fracking’s benefits were being exaggerated while the associated risks were being minimized.

He added that the global process of gas fracking, including escaping methane, contributes significantly to climate change, which is occurring more rapidly than scientists had predicted and approaching a crisis point.

Arnold laid particular emphasis on the health and environmental issues that have come to light not only in areas where fracking is going on, but also in areas – possibly including Warwick – where pipelines and heavy truck traffic are needed to support the fracked gas industry.

Both speakers agreed that one of the hardest-to-solve issues involved the amount of chemical-laden waste water that comes back out of the well and has to be stored and disposed.

The dual presentations were followed by a lively Q&A session in which additional information emerged, including the discovery of toluene, a hazardous chemical along the pipeline in West Milford, just a few miles from Warwick, and the “compulsory integration” law which allows gas companies to compel reluctant landowners to permit fracking.

And the survey says

At the end of the forum, almost everyone in the audience filled out a brief survey. The results were:

102: Opposed to fracking.

14: In favor of fracking.

17: Need to know more.

5: Opposed or need to know more.

“It’s that last part of the forum title – ‘What Warwick needs to know’ – that we wanted to emphasize,” forum moderator and Sustainable Warwick Chair Geoff Howard said at the end of the meeting. “Our goal was to present balanced information to Warwick on this controversial topic and to put fracking on the front page of people’s awareness. We think this forum was an important first step.

“There are serious issues surrounding pipelines, road damage, and air and water quality that can and will affect Warwick even if it’s not above shale that can be fracked today,” Howard added. “The time to address these issues is now.”

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Editor’s note: Information for this story was provided by Sustainable Warwick.

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