People’s Hearing in Buffalo a Bust
It was billed as the “People’s Public Hearing on Fracking”, an all-day event at the Burchfield-Penney Art Center in Buffalo. Social media posts explained it was a “hearing” because the Buffalo area wasn’t a site for the DEC’s hearings on the SGEIS last fall. This gathering would give the people of western New York a chance to have their voices heard – an opportunity that was denied the organizers claim. The day would include speakers, music and information tables from the Sierra Club. The event boasted its own website, http://www.peopleshearing.com. There was even a fundraiser held in a local restaurant a few weeks prior, to help defray expenses.
At first blush, there are several flaws in this creative attempt at synergy, learning and community. First and foremost, Buffalo doesn’t sit over the Marcellus Shale. Secondly, Buffalo’s Common Council, in a symbolic gesture, banned hydraulic fracturing in the city a while ago. Why create fuss and bother in a place where drilling wouldn’t have happened and by law now can’t happen? Finally, there was ample time and opportunity to express views and opinions during the public comment period. There were four well publicized hearing sites and western New Yorkers were present at every one. The DEC received more than 60,000 comments…so what’s left to say that hasn’t already been said? And more importantly, the chance to express new opinions is over. Even a “hearing” wouldn’t change that.
So in the spirit of Energy In Depth Northeast Marcellus stalwart field team, I decided to pay a visit to the event. I dressed casually to blend in, grabbed my phone with its camera all charged and my first order of business was to find a place to park my car. The BPAC is on a very busy college campus and today was no exception. My first impression from the parking lot: look at all those cars. Those not-American-nameplate cars. My spiffy little Chevy was out numbered. Also, while there are plenty of bike racks around, not a single bike was to be seen. Hmm. Conspicuous consumption of fossil fuel. Check.
I read the plastic-laminated sign (how did that happen? Solar can laminate?) and saw the rundown of speakers. Chip Northrup would be here…straight from his wintering in Florida and before tourist season hit the high notes in Cooperstown. So would other speakers from Pennsylvania, someone who bills herself as a “Love Canal survivor” and a nurse who is best known for leading a campaign to prevent National Fuel from building a compressor station in a small town south of Buffalo. There was even going to be a presentation by the Occupy Buffalo group. You remember the occupy movement? They were urban campers who gratefully accepted donated food and port-a-potties because American big business is so corrupt.
I walked past a couple unstaffed, almost empty tables and the same tired Sierra Club display and went into the auditorium. I counted 38 people in the audience. (A published report in The Buffalo News says about a 100 people attended the actual hearing.) Yup, the same auditorium that held 175 business people in November, when the western New York Business Leadership Forum hosted its Marcellus Shale: A Growth Story presentation now had a population of 38. And that included the volunteers and one of the organizers. But all eyes were glued to the speaker who, among other things, said that mystery chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing were tied to America’s growing problem with obesity. Is high fructose corn syrup listed on fracfocus.org? Who knew?
I took a look at the wares for sale. T-shirts: the label said they were made from 100% organic cotton. But the lovely multi-colored logo emblazoned on the front? How was that applied? Looked like a standard heat-transfer to me and those machines are electrically powered, aren’t they? I asked the volunteer. She didn’t know.
If I had to sum up my experience in one word, it would be disingenuous. Because you can bang the drum and circle your supporters all you want, but without broader understanding and a more meaningful dialog, the arguments are shallow at best.
So what was missing from this robust attempt at learning and gathering? Industry representation to provide some real information without hyperbole and hype. A real dialog on how community activists can work together to provide education and alleviate unfounded fear. A salute to the industry that powers our lifestyles, our manufacturing plants and our state’s economy. In other words: the indisputable facts.
So 90-minutes later I left. Because the other thing wrong with this event was that it was held on a spring Saturday and a few blocks away, the annual Taste of Diversity festival celebrated a culture rich neighborhood. And another half mile away was the 35th Annual Greek Festival. The Gus Macker three on three basketball contest was starting downtown . The sun was shining over the Central Wharf. In the words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop around and look for a while, you may miss it.”