Tuesday, August 10, 2010

EPA hearings on hydraulic fracturing moved from Binghamton to Syracuse

A regional hearing to be held Thursday on a landmark Environmental Protection Agency study of hydraulic fracturing has been moved from Binghamton to Syracuse, N.Y., the agency announced Monday.

The hearings on the controversial natural gas drilling process, which are expected to draw as many as 8,000 participants and protestors, including many from Northeast Pennsylvania, will be held in the Exhibit Hall of the Oncenter Complex Convention Center in Syracuse, after the EPA and Binghamton University, the initial host site, disagreed on a venue.

The three, four-hour information sessions and hearings will be held at the same time they were originally scheduled: 8 a.m., 1 p.m., and 6 p.m. The 300 speaking slots at the event are full, but the agency expects slots will open up because of the venue change. It will open registration for those slots by phone and online beginning at 10 a.m. on Wednesday.

People who preregistered to speak at or attend the event remain registered, according to the EPA, and others who would still like to preregister can do so by Wednesday morning. Walk-in attendees will also be welcome.

The venue was changed after the anticipated crowd size - and the cost of hosting the event - swelled.

Binghamton University released a statement Monday saying that the event is expected to involve 1,200 registered participants, but might have drawn 8,000 people to the campus. The university developed a price based on the expected crowd size "to ensure that the campus would remain cost neutral," it said.

Judith Enck, the administrator of EPA Region 2, criticized that price in a statement, saying it was "more than 500 percent higher than the University's original estimate" and "unacceptable." An EPA official familiar with the situation said the price increased from $6,000 to $40,000.

The venue was moved to Syracuse when an alternate location in Binghamton could not be found, she said.

The EPA announced in March that it will conduct a multiyear, $1.9 million study of the potential for hydraulic fracturing - the process of breaking apart gas-bearing rock with chemically treated water and sand - to harm water quality and public health.

The Syracuse sessions are the largest of four such events that have been held across the country this summer in Colorado, Texas and southwestern Pennsylvania to gather comment about the study's design.




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