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State Says Hydrofracking OK, But Not Near Watersheds, Wells

'I'm confident we have the right controls,' a state official says.

After years of review, state environmental officials on Friday said they were confident hydraulic fracturing, a controversial method of natural-gas extraction, could be done safely in New York's Southern Tier without polluting air or drinking water, but recommended banning it near New York City's water supply.

"Hydrofracking," as the practice is known, involves blasting millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals deep into rock formations, releasing the gas trapped inside.

The method has been assailed by environmentalists nationwide for its potential to leak toxic chemicals into local water supplies. But proponents say hydrofracking is safe, and allowing it in New York would create tens of thousands of jobs, drum up revenue in cash-strapped upstate communities, and potentially decrease utility costs for many New Yorkers.

On Friday, the state Department of Environmental Conservation released a summary of a highly-anticipated 900-page report, which will be available July 8, that recommends banning hydrofracking in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds, as well as 500 feet from any public water supply or private well. That would still leave at least 80 percent of the state's gas reserves open for drilling.

The release of the report effectively ends a year-long moratorium on hydrofracking, but DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said permits would not be issued until early next year.

"We can protect the environment and reap some of the economic and energy benefits of drilling," Martens said at a news conference. "I'm confident we have the right controls."

One of the most important requirements he said, would be the construction of a series of cement casings around gas pipes meant to keep leaking gas from reaching watersheds. The state would also require companies to disclose most of the chemicals they use.

A 60-day public comment period will run from the end of August to the end of October, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo will make a decision on the scope of hydrofracking in the state. A similar comment period in 2009 yielded 13,000 responses; more are expected this year.

While many environmentalists said the DEC's suggestions are a solid first step, other fracking opponents expressed greater disappointment. Sen. David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown) sponsored a bill this year that would have into next summer. He said further study is needed, as new research continues to point out potential hazards of gas drilling.

"Report after report shows us situations where we're putting public health in jeopardy," Carlucci said. "The gas isn't going anywhere, there will be money to be made, but we want to do it right."

Gov. Cuomo has stayed out of the spotlight on the issue, but has stressed in the past that the safety of drinking water is his top concern. On Friday, Cuomo lauded the report for being "based on rigorous testing, research, facts and science, not politics or ideology on the issue." He also said the state's regulation of gas wells would be "aggressive and effective."

Assemblyman Bob Castelli (R-Goldens Bridge), who has sponsored bills to tighten regulation of gas drilling, said he supported the bulk of the recommendations released Friday.

"I am glad they are moving to protect certain areas and I am keeping my fingers crossed that those areas where they may allow drilling are still under review," Castelli said.

He also lauded the creation of what he called "a blue ribbon panel" of environmentalists, industry officials and state lawmakers who are tasked with thinking up strategies to implement and enforce the DEC's hydrofracking rules.

Kate Sinding, the senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council and a member of the panel, said the DEC recommendations are a promising first step.

"It appears they are proposing more stringent rules than we've seen anywhere else," Sinding said, adding that she had not yet seen the full report. 

But she had concerns that the DEC review was done "on a well-by-well basis" and without regard to the potential impacts of drilling on entire communities, and also about the state's decision to lift the moratorium before rules are in place, which likely won't be for another year.

"We're going to press for a uniform, legally-binding set of rules before they begin reviewing permits," Sinding said.

The soonest the state would begin issuing permits, Martens said on Friday, is early next year.

Dan Seidel September 18, 2011 at 09:10 PM
the USGS just revised theIr estimates of the gas reserves DOWNWARD BY 80%!!! THIS IS A GAS COMPANY OIL COMPANY SCAM!!!! as for the "enviro nazis" thing - the gas has been there for millions of years- what's a few more years? SHUT DOWN THE FRACKING NOW!!!!! NO JOBS, NO RESERVES, EMPTY PROMISES AND DESTRUCTION OF OUR DRINKING WATER AS WELL AS OTHER MUNICIPALITIES WHICH DEPEND UPON LOCAL WATERS!!! what don't you drill baby drill braniacs get? YOU ARE KILLING YOUR CHILDREN'S DRINKING WATER!!!!! you will be killing your children and your grandchildren - AND MINE!!! choose your fights wisely - this one is about OUR health - with or without this gas, we are overstuffed for the next 100 years.
Cadeyrn September 18, 2011 at 09:17 PM
Marilyn: "...I noticed the article said fracking in NY 'could potentially lower gas prices' for NYers not 'will' so explain to me again the benefits?" Sure. "... This concern has led to a ban on the use of hydraulic fracturing in New York State—but is this moratorium on shale gas drilling beneficial for New Yorkers? A new Manhattan Institute Center for Energy Policy and the Environment report ... analyzes the economic and environmental impacts of shale gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania (the formation spans several states including, New York). The report finds the net economic benefits of shale drilling in the Marcellus are considerably positive while the environmental impact of the typical Marcellus well is relatively low. Pennsylvania’s experience suggests that NY is needlessly stifling job growth, investment, and tax revenue in a part of the state that can scarcely afford it. What ending the moratorium means for NY:  $11.4 billion in economic output and $1.4 billion in tax revenues.  $4 million in economic benefits from each well but only $14,000 in economic damages from environmental impacts.  Some 15,000 to 18,000 jobs could be created in the Southern Tier and Western New York, which lost a combined 48,000 payroll jobs between 2000 and 2010.  75,000 to 90,000 jobs could be created if exploration and drilling were expanded to include the Utica Shale and southeastern New York, including the New York City watershed.
Cadeyrn September 18, 2011 at 09:22 PM
Politics Trumps All: Fracking Opposition Has Little to do With Water Safety or Public Health Last month, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry published a report that showed a nearly 1300% increase in core Marcellus industry jobs in the Northern Tier counties of Bradford, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga and Wyoming since 2008.” That nearly 48,000 people have been hired in the last year by industries related to drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation, and 71% of those people were Pennsylvania residents”. his report cut against the meme that was being propagated by the anti-fracking coalitions who claimed that shale gas drilling would not benefit the local economy, that the hires that did occur would be brought in by big oil and that the only jobs that would be produced were those of truck drivers who would tear up the roads and spill brine fluid into pristine streams, lakes and ponds. http://lonelyconservative.com/2011/06/politics-trumps-all-fracking-opposition-has-little-to-do-with-water-safety-or-public-health/
Cadeyrn September 18, 2011 at 10:06 PM
Stop screaming. And ranting. And offer something rational.
David September 18, 2011 at 11:47 PM
$535 million government loan to Solyndra. Gone. What a joke. If Bush had done this, there would be a call for impeachment. I will take "drill baby drill" any day over flushing money down the drain all in the name of :green energy".

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