Marcellus Shale Drillers, Environmentalists Opposed to Cuts at New York DEC

Gas drillers who want to bring hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to New York’s Marcellus shale and the environmentalists who are less than enthusiastic about those plans have found something that they can agree on. According to The New York Times, both are decrying proposed cuts at the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

Last week, Governor David Paterson fired Alexander B. Grannis, the department’s commissioner, after a memo discussing the cuts was leaked to an Albany newspaper, the Times said. The proposal calls for the elimination of 209 staff position at the DEC by the end of the year. The memo asserts that the cutbacks could slow natural gas development in New York, and that they “may result in potential serious risks to human health and safety and environmental quality.”

“The public would be shocked to learn how thin we are in many areas,” the unsigned memo stated. “In many instances, we have offices or sections responsible for important permitting and monitoring functions staffed by only one or two people.”

As the New York Times points out, the DEC has already lost 595 employees over the last two and a half years.

According to the Times, the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York is opposed to cutbacks at the DEC, saying that adequate staff was needed to administer permits for drilling and to enforce department rules governing fracking.

Opponents of fracking also oppose the cutbacks. “The future of hydrofracking in New York State is really the most important environmental issue that we face, and we need a strong DEC to protect New York State drinking water,” James Gennaro, a New York City councilman who successfully pushed for restrictions on fracking in the city’s watershed, told the Times.

On Friday environmentalists and public health experts from 16 organizations called upon the governor to reinstate Grannis.

In New York, fracking has been particularly controversial. The state’s Marcellus shale region includes the entire Catskills watershed that provides New York City with all of its drinking water. The DEC has had gas drilling permit approvals on hold since 2008 while it conducts an environmental review of fracking.

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