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Hearing airs pleas for ban on 'fracking' in Buffalo

The furor over "fracking," a controversial technique used to obtain natural gas, was the focus of a lively City Hall hearing Tuesday.

More than 50 people attended the meeting, most of them activists who want Buffalo to impose a ban on hydraulic fracturing. They claim the practice of using chemically treated water to help unlock vast supplies of natural gas in shale deep below the earth's surface poses numerous hazards, including possible contamination of water tables.

No plans have been proposed to begin hydrofracking in Buffalo. Former Gov. David A. Paterson also issued an executive order imposing a a six-month moratorium on a certain type of hydrofracking. But environmental activists believe a ban in Buffalo would be a "symbolic gesture" that could be a catalyst for spurring similar actions in other regions.

Albert Brown, a spokesman for the environmental group Frack Action Buffalo, said the region is fortunate to be located on the Great Lakes in an era when the availability of fresh water is taking on added importance.

"We happen to be sitting on some of the most precious resources on the entire planet, and the last thing that we want in Buffalo is to have our water contaminated," Brown told the Common Council's Legislation Committee.

An environmental consultant -- the lone speaker in support of hydrofracking -- was greeted to jeers by some participants. David L. Palmerton Jr. of the Palmerton Group accused opponents of engaging in "rhetoric" and spreading "environmental brimstone" stories.

Stringent federal and state regulations, Palmerton claimed, regulate procedures effectively, an assertion that other speakers contested. He cited some estimates that suggest hydrofracking could create $16 billion in economic output and 180,000 jobs in this state by 2020.

"There's an industry out there -- probably right now the only industry -- that's willing to come into New York State to create the number of jobs and create the economic benefits that this city needs -- that this state needs," he said. "Nobody else is knocking on the door."

Peter Reese, a Buffalo attorney, community activist and industrial engineer, said he fears that current technology does not ensure that hydrofracking can be done without causing environmental damage.

"If we're the Saudi Arabia of natural gas, but we end up looking like Saudi Arabia when we're done getting it out -- i.e., a barren desert -- it won't be a good thing," Reese said.

The ban appeared to have sufficient support to win approval. The Council previously voted, 9-0, to oppose hydrofracking. North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr., the sponsor of the proposed city ban, said he believes lawmakers have a duty to future generations.

"It's not safe, from everything I've read," Golombek said.

No National Fuel representative spoke at the 90-minute hearing, but Karen L. Merkel, a spokeswoman, said last month that the company "has no plans to pursue Marcellus Shale drilling in New York State."

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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