By Dan Hust
ALBANY The much-anticipated revised draft of state rules for high-volume hydraulic fracturing in gas drilling is being released this week, but it’s already engendered both praise and criticism.
On Friday, the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) released highlights of the potentially final Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) its staff had labored for months to revise, after receiving more than 13,000 comments since 2009 on the draft SGEIS.
“We know there were inadequacies in the 2009 dSGEIS,” DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens acknowledged in a press conference Friday.
He and DEC employees and advisors said they’ve researched the data, observed other states’ approach to drilling, even visited places in Pennsylvania where things went wrong.
“I think we’ve been able to isolate what the problems were and correct them,” said Martens.
“I believe it [gas drilling] can be done safely,” he added. “... Our feeling is we can protect the environment and realize some of the economic and energy benefits of the Marcellus Shale.”
Nevertheless, the revisions indicate, as he said, the DEC’s recognition of “a good need for an excess of caution.”
Some of the changes include:
• no fracking in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds;
• no surface drilling on state-owned land;
• no drilling in or within 500 feet of primary aquifers, private water wells or domestic-use springs;
• no drilling within 2,000 feet of a public drinking water supply source “until three years of experience elsewhere have been evaluated;”
• no wellpads within a 100-year floodplain;
• the requirement of a third well casing to prevent gas migration;
• watertight tanks to store flowback fluid from the well no open pits;
• special permits for withdrawing large amounts of water to use in fracking wells;
• DEC signoff on disposing of used water and chemicals, including treating it similar to medical waste;
• local government notification of every permit application, and if the proposed project doesn’t conform to existing land use and zoning laws, additional DEC review;
• only flaring gas when no alternatives are available;
• restricting the disturbance of privately-owned forests greater than 150 acres or grasslands greater than 30 acres
Martens said the DEC is also examining socioeconomic impacts, transportation infrastructure and visual/noise impacts, with that data due July 31.
And the DEC has created a fracking advisory panel consisting of a mix of government, environmental and industry representatives.
Not everyone’s happy
The changes seemed design to strike a balance between environmental and economic development concerns, but the drilling debate has proven that there’s little middle ground to be found.
Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners Association founder Noel van Swol, who’s actively seeking gas leases, could not be reached for comment, but NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised the revisions.
“After more than a year of careful research and analysis, the DEC made the right decision to recommend a ban of hydrofracking in the city’s upstate watersheds and a process to establish rules that will allow drilling elsewhere in a rigorously protective and environmentally responsible way,” Bloomberg said Friday. “... These new recommendations appear to adopt the restrictions we sought.”
But Catskill Mountainkeeper Executive Director Ramsay Adams said Friday that while some of his organization’s concerns were answered, the state has implicitly acknowledged that drilling is dangerous by not permitting it in the NYC watershed.
“What makes the rest of us not as important to protect as New York City?” he wondered.
The Youngsville-based Catskill Mountainkeeper is now calling for a complete statewide ban on fracking.
“The DEC is releasing recommendations for regulations on high-volume hydraulic fracturing in New York State, which would allow for drilling in 85 percent of the state’s Marcellus Shale formations and fails to offer protections for the Delaware River Basin and the private lands in the Catskill Park,” Adams remarked. “It’s clear from the summary released yesterday that the administration is intent on laying out a roadmap to enable aggressive high-volume fracking to be done in New York State, and we refuse to endorse a process that is blatantly and fatally flawed.”
But even Adams acknowledges that these revisions remain simply recommendations, and fracking is still under a de facto ban until the regulations are finalized and enacted.
Once the revised SGEIS is released, a public comment period will follow, though at press time the details of that were still being worked out.
Thus it is likely drilling involving fracking in New York State won’t begin until at least next year.
The SGEIS and more information can be found at www.dec.ny.gov/energy/75370.html.