Apparently, Hydrofracking makes Hulk mad. Mark Ruffalo, who’s set to play the famous green superhero strongman in the “Avengers” movie due out next May, was among the celebrities and politicians who turned out to show their opposition to the controversial natural gas drilling technique today. Mr. Ruffalo appeared along with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, actress Debra Winger, State Senator Daniel Squadron and others at an anti-fracking press conference ahead of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s hearing to review regulations for hydrofracking, which is popular shorthand for hydraulic fracturing.
About 100 people gathered for the press conference including a contingent of activists who waved signs with slogans like “Don’t Frack With New York.” They packed into a courtyard at the Borough of Manhattan Community College where the hearing was an hour away from beginning. A trio carried placards with pictures of Governor Andrew Cuomo photoshopped into the famous “See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil” pose.
Governor Cuomo is a favored target of the anti-fracking activists since he lifted an outright moratorium on the procedure this past summer and, with the DEC, is working to come up with rules to regulate hydrofracking in the state. Environmental activists argue the hydrofracking, which involves extracting gas from underground rock layers by creating fractures with a cocktail of pressurized water and chemicals, is dangerous and want it banned outright. Proponents of hydrofracking, including the natural gas industry, which has spent millions lobbying for the procedure, promise fracking safe and will create jobs. Proposed DEC hydrofracking regulations would allow the procedure apart from the New York City and Syracuse watersheds, which would be free from fracking and surrounded by a 4,000 foot buffer zone.
Like most rallies in the wake of the widespread Occupy Wall Street protests, the press conference began with a “mic check.” David Braun, a representative of United for Action, one of the groups pushing for a hydrofracking ban, used the “people’s mic” technique popularized at the protests where a speaker shouts and asks the crowd to repeat his words. Mr. Braun attempted to ease the crowding in the courtyard.
“We need you good people of New York to take two steps back,” he shouted. Many in the crowd dutifully repeated his words and moved backward.
State Senator Tony Avella, who co-sponsored a bill to ban fracking, was the first politician to speak.
“We have to be literally insane to even contemplate this practice,” Senator Avella said. “We’re not going to let this happen. This fight is only beginning. No fracking way!”
Senator Avella’s last three words provoked uproarious chants from the crowd. Once the noise died down, Borough President Stringer took the podium.
“The reason we oppose fracking is because it’s proven to be unsafe. … We have got to send a strong signal at this hearing,” Borough President Stringer said. “This is the number one environmental issue facing the United States of America and New York City should lead the environmental community rather than follow it.”
Borough President Stringer also pointed out that other countries, including Israel, have held off on allow hydrofracking within their borders until more research can be done into its effects.
“If it’s not safe for Israel, and they’re right, why is it safe for New York State?” Borough President Stringer asked.
State Senator Daniel Squadron was next to speak.
“Can we have women speakers?” a heckler in the crowd shouted.
Senator Squadron urged the group not to let “fracking be the mistake this generation makes for the next generation.” He was followed by State Senator Liz Krueger, who also co-sponsored the fracking ban.
“Yay! A woman!” the heckler shouted.
Senator Krueger referenced a statement Governor Cuomo made to the New York Times that he wanted to “get the facts” before making a concrete decision on fracking.
“Let the science and the facts make the determination, not emotion and not politics,” Governor Cuomo said.
At the press conference, Senator Krueger questioned that approach.
“There is so much science, there are so much facts,” she said. “I’m waiting to see any study saying it’s OK to go forward other than studies produced by the industry.”
Mr. Ruffalo spoke next and asked why New York isn’t working on plans to generate jobs and power through environmentally friendly means.
“What this state needs and wants is renewable energy,” Mr. Ruffalo said. “Why are we here today debating what amounts of poison we will allow our children to ingest and inhale? Why aren’t we debating where we’re going to put our solar farms?”
Ms. Winger followed Mr. Ruffalo by predicting fracking will have a disastrous effect on New York’s real estate market.
“Real estate will tank if we do this. Talk about a bad real estate world, you haven’t seen anything. If you have frackland, you won’t sell anything in New York State,” she said.
Josh Fox, who wrote and directed “Gasland,” an Academy Award nominated documentary on hydrofracking, also spoke. He tried to use the “people’s mic.”
“Let’s be trendy about this, mic check, mic check,” Mr. Fox began. “The gas industry is lying. They can spend millions of dollars lobbying Albany, lobbying Washington, but it won’t work. … The genie is out of the bottle.”
Mr. Fox’s attempt to employ the “people’s mic” was met with mixed results. Midway through his remarks his voice trailed off and he began to cough.
“Sorry, I have a cold,” Mr. Fox said as his voice returned to normal volume. He finished his speech by characterizing the fight over fracking as a “human rights struggle.”
“This is not about the environment, it’s about the gas industry and politicians who support them admitting human rights violations,” Mr. Fox said.
As the scheduled start of the hearing approached, we left the press conference to ensure we’d have a seat. Outside the doors of the auditorium people fought over the tickets that would allow them to speak. The DEC allotted 3 minute slots for 100 speakers during the three hour afternoon hearing. Another session is scheduled for 6 p.m. this evening. Hearings on hydrofracking have also been held at several other locations around the state.
Elected officials were the first to speak. Senator Avella pointed out the absence of DEC Commissioner Joe Martens.
“Although I have a good relationship with the agency and I think you do a good job overall, but I’m disappointed not to see the Commissioner here,” Senator Avella said.
State Senator Thomas Duane also criticized the DEC.
“I must note my dismay at the haste with which DEC is conducting this public review process,” Mr. Duane said.
Senator Duane said the DEC’s proposed fracking regulations and mitigation measures “do not go far enough.”
“I am also concerned that the DEC, after sustaining a series of budget and staff cuts, will be unable to effectively enforce its proposed rules and regulations,” Senator Duane said.
Senator Duane also called on the DEC to establish criminal penalties “for both intentional frack fluid releases and acts of negligence.”
“Drilling companies must not be allowed to simply absorb civil penalties for cutting corners as the cost of doing business,” Senator Duane said. “The prospect of criminal prosecution could deter reckless behavior.”
None of the elected officials present or those who sent people to speak on their behalf in the first 40 minutes of the hearing spoke in favor of fracking. Hearings are scheduled to continue until tonight at 9 pm.