New York Could Start Approving Fracking Permits This Year

New York may begin approving permits to allow hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the state by year’s end.

According to an International Business Times report, the state’s Dept. of Environmental Conservation indicated recently it was set to approve initial permits for fracking activity. The hold-up is the department’s need to approve rules governing the controversial natural gas extraction method within New York’s borders.

The state has dragged its feet in allowing fracking to occur, opting to conduct a full environmental review of the process before subjecting the state’s ample natural resources and its millions of people to the potential hazards of the drilling. A spokesperson told IBT the DEC expects those first permits to be approved by the end of 2012.

The IBT report cites another report indicating as many as 75 drilling permits could be approved within the first year in the Empire State. There is currently a “de-facto moratorium” on fracking drilling in New York, an extension of an original moratorium put in place by then-Gov. David Patterson. After he was replaced via election by current Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the moratorium was lifted somewhat, but no rush of permits was approved as the governor opted to allow DEC to conduct its safety review.

Fracking uses a mix of more than 600 chemicals, thousands of gallons of fresh water, sand, and a drill ushered through an underground horizontal well. When that mix reaches shale beds under the surface, the rock is blasted apart, releasing natural gas. Problems occur either through poorly constructed wells or courtesy of the relatively unchecked process. People living closest to active fracking wells across the country and especially in New York’s neighbor, Pennsylvania, blame fracking activity for methane gas and other toxic contamination of their water wells. Fracking has also been blamed on groundwater and air contamination and has forced some residents living closest to wells to find alternative sources of fresh water because the effects of the drilling has left their water undrinkable and unusable.

New York lawmakers have heard ample evidence to support extending the moratorium on fracking, even putting a halt to any proposed wells in the state but a strong industry lobby maintains the process can be conducted safely and be a boon to the state and nation. The state sits atop a massive portion of the Marcellus shale formation, a multi-state large rock bed believed to contain upwards of $3 trillion in natural gas reserves.

The state’s DEC has been holding countless hearings in the last two years in an attempt to leave no voice unheard in the fracking debate. There are currently more than 60 outstanding fracking permits awaiting approval by state regulators, according to the report. Any approval of fracking in the state will require a massive expansion of New York’s DEP. There are just 16 people employed by the DEC to handle fracking requests. If the waiting permits are approved, the state will have to hire more than 100 people to handle inspections at well sites and to review safety information gathered before and during the drilling process.

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