Fracking opponents carried signs saying "Kids can't drink gas" and "Protect our water. Stop fracking America." Supporters, including union workers eager for jobs, carried signs that said "Yes to science, no to paranoia" and chanted "Pass gas now!"
Hundreds of people on both sides gathered Monday for what are expected to be contentious public hearings on a federal environmental study of a natural gas drilling technique aimed at tapping a rich formation beneath much of the Northeast.
The Environmental Protection Agency is holding four-hour hearings in Binghamton beginning at noon and again at 6 p.m. Two more sessions are scheduled for Wednesday.
The EPA is considering how broadly to construct its study of fracking, ordered last year by Congress after the agency's 2004 study that declared the technology safe was widely criticized as flawed. That study had enabled passage of 2005 energy legislation exempting fracking from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The drilling technique involves blasting millions of gallons of chemical-laced water mixed with sand into the ground and then horizontally to release natural gas from rock formations thousands of feet underground. Opponents say the process can poison drinking water but the industry, strongly opposed to federal regulation, contends there's no proof that fracking chemicals have contaminated drinking water.
The hearings come as a gas rush barely two years old is under way in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, with drilling companies tapping into the vast and lucrative Marcellus Shale region underlying those states, New York and Ohio. Some geologists estimate the Marcellus might contain more than 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, of which 50 trillion cubic feet might be recoverable by fracking — enough to supply the entire East Coast for 50 years.
The proximity of the gas stores to the large East Coast energy market makes it particularly valuable. But its location brings drilling to a densely populated region and fears of water contamination of the Delaware River watershed that provides drinking water for 17 million people from Philadelphia to New York City.