Nick Grealy, of No Hot Air, asks, "Could sanity be breaking out in the empire state"?, while ProActive Network is a bit more jaundiced, finding "some good recommendations and some strange recommendations", with lawsuits on the horizon. While the NRDC Switchboard states "the de facto moratorium that has been in place since the summer of 2008 remains intact".
So what gives?
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation was required to release its Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Study (SGEIS) on Friday July 1. The details of which were released by surprise today. Fred Dicker of the NY Post claims that "Cuomo Administration insiders said they believed details of the report were being released Thursday by environmental activists at DEC, who opposed the findings." This may in fact be true, but if so it was poorly coordinated as there is virtual silence, for now, from the anti-fracking brigade.
It tuns out the rumors are true! The NY State DEC will issue new recommendations in its hydraulic fracturing review, the full report will be presumably be presented tomorrow, but the general findings can be found at the NY DEC website.
- In Reversal of 2009 Report, High-Volume Fracturing Would be Prohibited in NYC and Syracuse Watersheds
- Drilling Banned Within All Primary Aquifers and on State-Owned Land Including State Forest and Wildlife Management Areas
- Drilling Permitted on Other Private Land with Rigorous and Effective Protections
- Advisory Panel on Implementation to Be Appointed
The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) tomorrow will release its revised recommendations on mitigating the environmental impacts of high-volume hydraulic fracturing . The recommendations contain these major revisions:
- High-volume fracturing would be prohibited in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds, including a buffer zone;
- Drilling would be prohibited within primary aquifers and within 500 feet of their boundaries;
- Surface drilling would be prohibited on state-owned land including parks, forest areas and wildlife management areas;
- High-volume fracturing will be permitted on privately held lands under rigorous and effective controls; and
- DEC will issue regulations to codify these recommendations into state law.
These recommendations, if adopted in final form, would protect the state's environmentally sensitive areas while realizing the economic development and energy benefits of the state's natural gas resources. Approximately 85 percent of the Marcellus Shale would be accessible to natural gas extraction under these recommendations.
DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens said, "This report strikes the right balance between protecting our environment, watersheds, and drinking water and promoting economic development."
The ban on high-volume fracturing in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds represents a reversal of the Department's 2009 draft report, which would have permitted drilling in those watersheds. The New York and Syracuse watersheds are unique in that they are the only unfiltered supplies of municipal water in the state and deserve special protection. The prior report also would have allowed high-volume fracturing surface drilling in primary aquifers and on public forests, wildlife areas and parkland; the 2011 report reverses all of these recommendations.
There will be more opportunity for review and comment on the Department's recommendations. DEC plans for a 60-day public comment period commencing in August. There is no administrative or discretionary moratorium on high-volume fracturing. By law, no permits may be issued until the public comments are reviewed and considered and the final Supplement Generic Environmental Impact Statement is released.
DEC enforcement and oversight of high-volume fracturing will be rigorous and effective. No permits will be issued until DEC has the proper enforcement capacity in place to monitor all fracturing activities.
In preparing the new recommendations, DEC engaged independent consultants to perform research, sought further information from the gas drilling industry, considered more than 13,000 public comments and studied other states' regulations and experience, including site visits by Commissioner Martens and DEC officials to Pennsylvania incident sites. Since September 2009, DEC staff has spent approximately 10,250 hours updating the document. The 2011 version contains more than 900 pages, including more than 150 additional pages of data and analysis compared to the 2009 version.
The DEC review has resulted in recommendations for rigorous and effective controls on high-volume fracturing on private lands. The "state-of-the-art controls" include rules to regulate eight specific parameters: Protecting Drinking Water, Properly Handling Flow Back Water, Taking Local Governments & Communities into Account, Identifying Fracturing Fluid Chemicals, Protecting the Air, Conserving Habitats, Making Sure We Get It Right - Community Impacts Still Under Study, and Appointment of Advisory Panel to Develop Implementation Plan. For specifics on each of these, please see the DEC website.
It seems obvious from the requirements that hydraulic fracturing for natural gas will not take place any time soon in New York State. The DEC seems to have effectively replaced an executive moratorium with a regulatory moratorium. Cuomo would be right to sign off on this plan as soon as possible. It may anger the anti's for a while, but they will eventually realize that the Governor is giving them a gift.