By Edith Honan
BINGHAMTON, New York (Reuters) - Critics ofnatural gas drilling in New York Monday urged U.S.regulators to enact tougher regulations, saying the BP <BP.L>oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico proves the industry cannot betrusted.
More than 1,600 officials and citizens were due to testifyover two days at a U.S. Environmental Protection Agencystakeholder meeting in Binghamton, in upstate New York.
Critics and supporters of drilling turned out to voicetheir opinions as part of the EPA's two-year study on possibleimpacts of high-volume horizontal gas drilling on drinkingwater.
"After what happened in the Gulf of Mexico earlier thisyear, we simply cannot rely on oil and gas industry to tell thetruth to keep us safe," said U.S. Representative MauriceHinchey, a Democrat who represents part of western New York.
Hydraulic fracturing involves blasting a mixture of fivemillion gallons of water, sand and chemicals into shale rockthat sits as deep as a mile underground.
It can involve six separate wells on a single drilling padwith drilling in multiple directions.
Gas companies such as Chesapeake Energy Corp hadhoped to begin drilling in New York as early as this year, butenvironmental groups point to cases of water contamination intowns such as Dimock, Pennsylvania, as evidence that the risksmust be better understood before New York opens its doors todrilling.
The public meeting near the New York-Pennsylvania bordermarked the agency's fourth and last stop in the United States,after similar hearings were held in Texas, Colorado andPennsylvania.
"We've seen evidence from all across the country ofenvironmental degradation," said Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan."We need to get it right."
Ryan said the state should hold off issuing drillingpermits until the EPA has concluded its review and the stateDepartment of Environmental Conservation (DEC) can conduct aseparate study.
He said that process could take "a long time."
About 200 opponents of gas drilling stood outside the ForumTheater in Binghamton, which sits over the massive Marcellusshale rock formation, holding signs saying: "They said it wassafe to drill in the Gulf too."
Across the road, a slightly smaller crowd held signsreading "Yes to science, No to Paranoia" and describedthemselves as the "true environmentalists."
"We're not going to let some gas company come in and ruinour property," said Martha Kirby, who owns 122 acres (50hectares) in Chenango Forks, New York, that she hopes to leaseto a gas company.
"The folks that keep asking for studies, there will neverbe enough studies for them," said Travis Windle, a spokesmanfor the industry group the Marcellus Shale Coalition. He saiddeep water oil drilling and shale gas drilling had nothing incommon.
Asked if he worried the public was turning againstdrilling, he said: "A well-educated landowner is our strongestally."
By some estimates, the Marcellus shale holds enough gas tomeet U.S. demand for at least a decade.
Environmental groups were initially supportive of gasdrilling, describing it as a domestic "bridge fuel" torenewable sources and away from foreign oil and coal.
"The more we learn about the risks of hydraulic fracturing,the more skeptical we are that regulatory agencies haveadequately considered the potential adverse environmentalimpacts of hydraulic fracturing," said Craig Michaels, theWatershed Program director at the environmental groupRiverkeeper.
Also on Monday, the environmental group Riverkeeperreleased a report on the environmental impact of drilling.There have been four cases of well blowouts and operatorerrors, three cases of water contamination and illegaldischarges, six cases of surface water spills and 15 cases ofstray gas migration involving the Marcellus shale, the waterquality watchdog group said. (Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst andDavid Gregorio)