NEW YORK STATE — There are major changes and at least one major reversal in the proposed rules that will likely come to cover fracking in New York State. On June 30, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) released a summary of updates to the draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS) regarding gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing that the department has been working on since 2009.
Among the biggest changes is that now DEC is recommending to Governor Andrew Cuomo that fracking be banned entirely in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds. Previously, the recommendation had been that owners of any gas drilling operations in those watersheds would need to complete individual environmental impact statements for each well, seriously increasing the cost but not entirely preventing drilling.
But drilling critics have jumped on that as not being the positive development it might seem. Bruce Ferguson, a member of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, called it “unequal protection.” The environmental advocacy group Catskill Mountainkeeper noted in an email to supporters that the recommendations “fail to offer protections for the Delaware River Basin and the private lands in the Catskill Park.”
While there is no suggestion in the release that a statewide ban on fracking would be considered, there are measures designed to increase protections for water supplies across the state. For instance: no permits would be issued for sites within 500 feet of a private water well or domestic use spring; no permits may be issued for a proposed site within 2,000 feet of a public drinking water supply well or reservoir at least until three years of experience elsewhere have been evaluated; no permits will be issued for well pads sited within a 100-year floodplain.
There are also recommended measures that would restore or clarify some of the power that local officials have to control where drilling can and can’t take place. According to the release, “Applicants must certify that a proposed activity is consistent with local land use and zoning laws. Failure to certify or a challenge by a locality would trigger additional DEC review before a permit could be issued.”
While these and other measures, such as containment of flow-back water in sealed vessels rather than open pits, go a long way toward meeting many of the complaints lodged by critics over the past few years, the movement for a total ban is stronger than ever.
Ferguson again: “The full development of the Marcellus Shale, using today's technology, will entail the underground injection of hundreds of billions of gallons of toxic fluid that will never be recovered. No one, not Governor Cuomo, not DEC Commissioner Joe Martens, nor anyone else, can say with certainty that these toxic fluids won't present a threat to our drinking water supplies in the years and decades to come.”
Catskill Mountainkeeper is now calling for total ban on fracking in the state, in part because of the move by the DEC, but also because of the accusations in the New York Times in recent days that drilling companies have “inflated the benefits of producing natural gas through fracking in an attempt to mislead regulators, investors and the public.”
Adding to the political pressure, the Working Families party has created a petition that urges people to sign a petition which says, "Governor Cuomo, please do everything in your power to ban hydraulic fracturing throughout New York State. There is no part of the state that should be eligible for fracking. The risks are too great."
The DEC indicated that there will be a 60-day comment period on the recommendations, beginning sometime in August. Go to www.dec.ny.gov/press/75403.html  to view the DEC release.