The proposed rules regarding gas drilling in New York State have already triggered more than 13,000 comments from the public. With the release of the final draft of the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) on September 7, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is expecting thousands more in the next 90 days.
Because of the projected high volume, the DEC is only accepting comments through the department’s website (www.dec.ny.gov/energy/76838.html ) and through the mail (dSGEIS Comments, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-6510). No faxed or emailed comments will be accepted.
Current plans call for the comment period to end on December 12. Some groups have said this is not enough time to study the document, which runs more than 1,000 pages, but others say the process has dragged on long enough.
The DEC has already expanded the period from 60 days to 90. State Senator John Bonacic said, in a statement, he has no objection to the comment extension. He added, “While those who are against drilling will always want more time in an effort to stop it, and those who are for drilling want to drill today, science, not politics, should drive all the DEC’s decision making on this critical issue. I believe that has been the case under Governor Andrew Cuomo and DEC Commissioner Joe Martens, and expect that will continue.”
Congressman Maurice Hinchey, however, said he supports calls for an even longer period. He said, “Considering the reckless way in which hydraulic fracturing has been carried out in other parts of the country, it is important that we understand all of the environmental and economic impacts that would result if drilling were to move forward in our state. A lot of hard work has gone into this new SGEIS and it has clearly changed dramatically since it was first issued.”
The Sullivan County Legislature considered a resolution that urged that the comment period be extended to 180 days. At a meeting at the government center on September 8, lawmaker Kathy LaBuda said the comment period needed to be longer so that interested parties could absorb the document.
Lawmaker Alan Sorensen moved to amend the resolution to make clear that the comment period would not be longer than 180 days. Lawmakers on the Planning and Environmental Management Committee agreed to the amendment, and passed the resolution, with Legislator Frank Armstrong voting no. The full board is expected to pass the resolution on September 15.
Meanwhile, some groups have begun to comment on the substance of the SGEIS. Catskill Mountainkeeper, for instance, said the SGEIS does not include an adequate health assessment of drilling and hydraulic fracturing. A statement on their website said, “The governor is acting like fracking is a done deal. Albany insiders tell us that fracking revenues are being put in the 2012 budget. This, and the unwillingness to extend the comment period to at least 180 days and review health impacts, makes it look like the hearing process is to satisfy appearances only.”
DEC plans to hold four public hearings during the comment period for the SGEIS in November. The meetings will be held in counties in the Marcellus Shale area, as well as New York City. Dates and locations will be announced shortly.