New York Governor Vetoes Hydraulic Fracturing Bill, Signs Executive Order Banning Fracking Until July

New York’s governor has vetoed a bill that would have imposed a hydraulic fracturing moratorium in the state until next May. Then Governor David Paterson signed an Executive Order that bans the controversial natural gas drilling technique – also known as fracking – even longer.

According to a statement from the Governor’s office, the Executive Order requires that, if approved, high-volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing would not be permitted until July 1, 2011, at the earliest.

Fracking is a drilling technique that involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. Thanks to a move by Congress in 2005, fracking is exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result, the industry is not required to disclose the chemicals – some of which are known to be hazardous – that make up their fracking fluids.

In New York, fracking has been particularly controversial. The state’s natural gas-rich Marcellus shale region includes the entire Catskills watershed that provides New York City with all of its drinking water. The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has had gas drilling permit approvals on hold since 2008 while it conducts an environmental review of fracking, but that could be lifted at any time.

Last month, the New York State Assembly approved a bill that would have imposed a gas drilling moratorium in the state until May 15, 2011. But on Saturday, Governor Paterson vetoed that bill. According to The New York Times, while the Executive Order bans fracking longer, it is more narrow in scope than the moratorium law the legislature approved.

“This legislation, which was well intentioned, would have a serious impact on our state if signed into law,” Governor. Paterson said in a statement announcing the order. “Enacting this legislation would put people out of work – work that is permitted by the Department of Environmental Conservation and causes no demonstrated environmental harm, in order to effectuate a moratorium that is principally symbolic.”

According to the Times:

“Mr. Paterson’s veto, and the subsequent executive order, appeared aimed at distinguishing between vertical wells and newer “horizontal drilling” techniques, in which gas drillers plumb the underground shale seams laterally. The governor’s order restricts permits for “high-volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing.”

While environmentalists were pleased with the longer moratorium, they were concerned that it would provide the drilling industry with a “loophole”, according to the Times.

“By carving out an exception for vertical wells that do not even exist yet, the governor did not save any jobs and did not assure the proper protection of water quality statewide,” Craig Michaels of the group Riverkeeper said in an e-mail to the Times. “The environmental community will be watching closely to assure that industry does not side-step environmental review by conducting an onslaught of vertical drilling and then converting those vertical wells to horizontal wells.”

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