New York Poised to Allow Fracking

Hydraulic fracturing could soon be coming to New York State. According to various media reports, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has recommended that the controversial oil and natural gas drilling technique be allowed in most of the state.

A moratorium on high-volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing expires today in New York, coinciding with the release of a DEC report that type of drilling. While the Democratic-controlled State Assembly did vote to extend the moratorium for another year, a similar bill has gained no traction in the Senate.

The Wall Street Journal reported last night that the DEC recommends that horizontal, high-volume fracking be allowed in the most of the state, with the exception of the environmentally sensitive watersheds that supply New York City and Syracuse with drinking water. Such drilling would also be banned within primary aquifers and surface drilling prohibited in state parks and other state-owned land. Fracking on private land would be subject to “rigorous and effective controls,” a DEC statement said. Other restrictions would include rules prohibiting this type of drilling “within 500 feet of a private water well or domestic-use spring,” or within 2,000 feet of a public reservoir or drinking water supply without further study, a New York Times report said.

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

Natural gas drillers are hailing the development as a huge victory, The Wall Street Journal said.

“It’s a good step toward finally being able to produce in that state,” said Chris Tucker, spokesman for Energy In Depth, an organization backed by the energy industry that supports hydraulic fracturing.

Environmentalists, on the other hand, are far less enthusiastic.

“It’s a shame,” Robert M. Ciesielski, the chairman of the Sierra Club, Niagara Group, told the Buffalo News. “There are serious health problems and public health problems with the waste from the drilling.”

“Until they make a commitment to updating the state’s regulations and the legal framework, we would oppose them moving forward in New York,” David Gahl, policy director of Environmental Advocates of New York, told The New York Times.

It’s still up to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, to sign off on the DEC recommendations. A report published online by The New York Times last night said the governor was poised to do so. However a spokesperson for Cuomo called the report “baseless speculation and premature,” according to MSNBC.

Even if the governor does accept the DEC recommendations, it will likely be a year before fracking resumes anywhere in the state. A 60-day public comment period on the DEC’s draft regulations begins next month. The DEC then will review those comments and make final revisions before issuing any drilling permits for this type of drilling.

In fracking, a cocktail of water, sand and chemicals is injected into the ground at high pressure to shake loose gas and oil deposits. Opponents of fracking are concerned that this type of natural gas drilling could lead to pollution of vital drinking water sources, either through the release of naturally-occurring hazardous substances or as a result of spills or leaks involving fracking fluid or fracking wastewater.

But boosters of the natural gas drilling technique argue that it will bring significant economic benefits to the state. New York sits atop the Marcellus shale, holds the nation’s largest reservoir of natural gas, and some believe second-largest in the world. Nearby Pennsylvania, also a Marcellus shale state, is already experience a fracking boom, with more than 3,000 natural wells having come online in recent years.

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