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PRI Goes to Washington (via Binghamton), part 1

September 20, 2010

Don’t get us wrong, PRI is not in the business of policy, but we are in the business of good science. So when the EPA came down to Binghamton to get the public’s opinion on what their study of hydraulic fracturing and its relationship to water resources ought to encompass, we went down to hear what everyone had to say. I can’t speak for all of the sessions, but we had PRI staff at 3 of the 4 public sessions, so its fair to say we got a good representation of the experience. Our purpose for attending was 2-fold: we wanted to hear about the EPA’s plans for the study and the timeframe around which it was being conducted, and we wanted to make sure we understood the concerns of the public about these important issues. Since we’re currently reviewing and drafting information on what we perceive as public concerns with Marcellus Shale drilling, we wanted to make sure we were hitting on the right issues.

Some of this recount will be directly from the first session, but is reflective of our collaborative experience.

When we arrived, the street immediately in front of The Forum, the Binghamton Theatre building in which the event was held, was closed. Pay-to-park lots, converted from hotel parking and other businesses, were located in the surrounding area. We chose one, parked, and then head toward the Forum. The paths toward the Forum held various groups with a variety of petitions for signing. Beyond them, on the closed street, were places for protesters to gather. Protesters from both pro-drilling and anti-drilling camps were there, and many were interviewed by news media, who were also exceedingly abundant. A rumor circulating the crowd was that Norwegian television was even in attendance.

To the credit of the EPA and local agencies working to bring the event together, our wait in line was not long, and certainly not unreasonable. Although, despite having to reschedule the event for gross attendance issues, the session I attended did not seem terribly well attended. People came and went throughout, but I think the morning session had somewhere near 1000 people when 7000 were expected.

Again to the credit of the EPA and local agencies, everyone stuck to the agenda, almost to the minute! I’ll highlight what the EPA had to say in the rest of this post, and my next post will discuss the public comment period.

The EPA set out a number of goals, including:

  • The study will be based in science, using independent contractors. It will be transparent and peer-reviewed by the EPA science advisory board.
  • It will focus on water resources using a case-study approach.
  • It will engage  stakeholders in the drafting.

Presenters also discussed some of the following aspects of the study:

  • Natural gas is important to our energy future, but water remediation is important, as well.
  • Need to understand what scenarios could cause negative environmental impacts and how can we best protect ourselves from those scenarios?
  • Need to understand the eventual chemical fate of drilling chemicals in the environment should they escape.
  • Need to understand water use and sourcing, well construction, and what company best practices should be

In the next post, we’ll talk about the comments made in the 3 hours of the session devoted to the public. Did you attend the EPA meeting in Binghamton? Or in Texas? Or did you comment on their draft scope document? We’d love to hear about it!

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