NY: Hydrofracking guidelines emerge

Prohibited within NYC, Syracuse watersheds, and on state
land

Albany, N.Y. (AP) – New York environmental officials have proposed
a ban on drilling for natural gas with hydraulic fracturing in the
New York City and Syracuse watersheds and on all state-owned lands
while permitting it on private land only under “rigorous and
effective controls” codified into state law.

The process of hydraulic fracturing, or “hydrofracking,” questioned
by many environmental groups as degrading a region’s water quality,
extracts natural gas from shale by pumping water, chemicals and
sand into the ground to create fissures in the rock and release the
gas.

The Department of Environmental Conservation released sketchy
details of major revisions to gas well permitting rules earlier
this month. The agency gave its recommendations contained in a
900-page document to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on July 1, the same day an
executive order prohibiting hydrofracking expires. The agency
describes the document as a work in progress, with some details
still to be worked out when research is completed.

The executive order was issued last year by then-Gov. David
Paterson to allow the DEC more time to review the technology and
develop new permitting rules. It was largely symbolic, as DEC
officials have said repeatedly that no permits will be issued until
the environmental review is finalized, a process that will continue
for many more months. The review has put a de facto moratorium in
place since it began in 2008.

“This report strikes the right balance between protecting our
environment, watersheds and drinking water and promoting economic
development,” DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said in a prepared
statement.

He said the areas that would be off-limits to drilling comprise
about 15 percent of New York’s part of the Marcellus Shale, a
natural gas-rich rock formation that also underlies parts of
Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

The DEC’s supplemental environmental study and revised draft
recommendations will be subject to further public comment and
revisions, a process likely to take months, during which there will
be no hydraulic fracturing.

Environmental groups, concerned about wastewater handling,
potential spills befouling well water and waterways, and the
cumulative impacts of thousands of gas wells on communities and
ecosystems, have pushed for an extended moratorium on gas drilling
in New York until a federal Environmental Protection Agency study
is completed. That’s not expected to be finished until at least
2012.

Katherine Nadeau of Environmental Advocates praised the proposal to
codify drilling regulations into state law, rather than mere
permitting guidelines as currently written. “Regulations are
enforceable. They spell out what must happen versus what should
happen,” she said.

She was critical of a proposal to allow only a 60-day comment
period starting in August, saying the public needs at least 180
days to pore over the enormous document.

“This is an opportunity for Cuomo to lead… the charge nationwide
on environmental issues surrounding shale gas development,” Nadeau
said.

A first draft of the study released in 2009 drew more than 13,000
comments. Among the major changes in the 2011 version are:

• High-volume hydraulic fracturing would be prohibited in the New
York City and Syracuse watersheds.

• Drilling would be prohibited within primary aquifers and within
500 feet of their boundaries.

• Drilling would be prohibited on state land, including parks,
forest areas and wildlife management areas.

• Wastewater from wells and other drilling waste would be subject
to monitoring similar to that used for medical waste.

• Drillers would be required to fully disclose all chemical
additives used in the hydrofracking process.

• The agency will issue regulations to codify the recommendations
into state law.

Currently, the state’s permitting guidelines are spelled out in a
state environmental impact document that allows drillers to avoid
having to do a costly and time-consuming environmental impact study
for each well. Environmental groups have pressed DEC to codify that
document into state law, which provides a stronger regulatory
framework.

An advisory panel made up of environmental, industry and local
government representatives would develop recommendations for
implementing a system of oversight, monitoring and
enforcement.

The draft report is available on the DEC website at
www.dec.state.ny.us .

“Our membership has always supported a tough, but fair, regulatory
structure,” said Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent
Oil and Gas Association of New York. “Allowing natural gas
development to expand in New York will bolster the state’s economy,
provide thousands of new jobs in the near term and move our nation
to greater energy independence.”

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