DEC regulations ban fracking in watershed areas, open up 85% of Marcellus for drilling

Albany, NY – Draft regulations regarding the process of high-volume hydraulic fracturing will officially be released Friday, but as WAMC's Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Greg Fry reports, details about the regulations have already been made public...

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation was given a July 1st deadline by Governor Andrew Cuomo, to come up with regulations regarding hydrofracking, the controversial process used to extract natural gas from below the earth.

Here are the recommendations from the DEC. No fracking would take place in watershed areas, which supply drinking water to New York City and the Syracuse area. No drilling would be allowed within primary aquifers or within 500 feet of their boundaries.

Surface drilling would be prohibited on state owned lands, including parks, wildlife management areas, and forest areas, and the process would be allowed on private lands.

The DEC's draft regulations essentially open up the possibility for drilling in areas across the state. DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said in a statement that the report strikes the right balance between protecting the environment, watersheds and drinking water, and promoting economic development.

According to the DEC, about 85 percent of the Marcellus Shale would be open for natural gas exploration under the recommendations.

The news is stunning to Ramsay Adams, the head of the environmental protection organization Catskill Mountainkeeper. Adams says it leaves similar groups, who have been working within the process, to wonder if they've been played.

These are simply draft regulations from the DEC, and the agency has planned for a 60-day public comment period to commence in August. Adams says that isn't long enough. He says it barely gives them time to read the document, let alone hire experts to analyze the recommendations.

Stuart Gruskin is a former Deputy Commissioner at the DEC. He says for permits to be issued, DEC will have to finalize its generic environmental impact statement - a process he says doesn't happen overnight. He sees little change in policy with regards to future drilling. He says that policy calls for the DEC to do a comprehensive environmental review to determine how to deal with environmental impacts prior to issuing permits.

Bruce Ferguson is with the group Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy. He says the DEC will have plenty of comments to review, and believes that the state should hold off on final recommendations until at least next year. Ferguson says it would likely be well into 2012 before the SGEIS statement would be released. He says it would be foolish to release the state plan weeks or months before the EPA's study of hydraulic fracturing and potential impacts on drinking water.

The Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, a leading industry voice on gas drilling in New York, issued a statement Thursday, saying they've always supported a tough, but fair, regulatory structure. State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he was pleased to see the ban in watershed areas, while Senator Majority Leader Dean Skelos stated the need to let experts determine the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing.

DEC Press Release on Hydraulic Fracturing Recommendations

Statement from Brad Gill, Executive Director, Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York: "IOGA of New York looks forward to reviewing the SGEIS to determine if the protections outlined by the state Department of Environmental Conservation strike a fair balance between protecting New York's environment and allowing the expansion of natural gas exploration in New York's Southern Tier. Our membership has always supported a tough, but fair, regulatory structure. Allowing natural gas development to expand in New York will bolster the state's economy, provide thousands of new jobs in the near term and move our nation to greater energy independence. After so many months of waiting and delay, we look forward to the chance to get people working and our economy growing."