At the first public hearing of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation's review of natural gas drilling, one speaker summed up the sentiment of many in Sullivan County, which is likely to see much of the drilling in the state.
"This is not good enough," said Callicoon resident Jane Blake. "How are we going to build a local economy and provide for ourselves if the future of the land is destroyed?"
More than 300 people crowded the theater at Sullivan County Community College, many voicing the concern that they have little control over the drilling that seems destined for their region, even though they will directly feel its effects.
"As chairman of the Planning Board, if you want to build a woodshed, you have to come to me," said Edwin Jackson. "Right now." he said, the gas companies "don't have to ask me anything."
The Wednesday night hearing was the public's first chance to critique the DEC's draft environmental review of drilling in the Marcellus Shale, an 800-plus page report that was released Sept. 30 and is in the midst of a 60-day public review period.
Environmentalists, town leaders and residents used their five-minute allotments to passionately compile a laundry list of changes they hope to see added to the document, which will dictate how gas development is overseen in the state.
They asked that communities be alerted when drilling applications are filed in their region; that additional safeguards be added to protect their drinking water; and that the cumulative impact of multiple drilling sites be considered. Some asked that drilling be banned altogether, citing hazardous toxins, the potential for roads to be destroyed and water contamination incidents in other states.
"There's nothing less than the future of our most valuable resource at stake," said homeowner Zeke Boyle.
A few people also spoke in favor of drilling, saying that it offered the chance for an economic renaissance in the county, which includes vast swaths of farmland and is struggling economically.
"Over the years, the farmers have been the best stewards of our land," said Jim Greier, a supervisor in the town of Fremont. "The leasing of their mineral rights will allow them to continue to stay in business and preserve our open space." Greier said many farmers are in a financial bind because of recent changes in the agricultural industry and the economy.
Scott Rotruck, from Chesapeake Energy Corp., also attended the hearing. Chesapeake is the largest holder of leases in the Marcellus Shale, and Rotruck repeated the company's recent announcement that it will not drill on the leases it holds in the watershed that provides most of New York City's drinking water.
The next hearing is scheduled for Nov. 10 in New York City.