Amid rumors and reports that Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to allow drilling in areas near the Pennsylvania border, gas drilling opponents are seeking to damper his political campaign efforts.
New York Residents Against Drilling and several other groups sent a letter to Cuomo’s top 1,000 individual donors recently asking them to pressure him to ban the practice of drilling in the state.
Residents are concerned about environmental issues and health and public safety. Environmentalists and other critics say fracking could poison water supplies, pollute the air, and cause illnesses, but the natural gas industry says it’s safe.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation hasn’t allowed shale gas drilling since it began an environmental impact review and new regulations four years ago. It’s updating regulations to address the potential impacts of new technology including horizontal drilling and high-volume fracking. The review is expected to be completed this year.
Residents and some government officials want drilling kept away from their neighborhoods and legislative districts until proper research is conducted to study the short-term and long-term effects of fracking.
This creates an awkward situation politically for Cuomo who has supporters in the environmental arena (where people are concerned about health and public safety) and the business arena (where people are concerned about job growth and economic growth). One of Cuomo’s priorities is job growth. And Cuomo’s supporters in the business arena see fracking as a job creator.
Tom Wilbur, long-time environmental journalist and author, discussed details of Cuomo’s plan to begin shale gas development in New York. He blogged about the governor’s plan on his blog Shale Gas Review. Wilbur said that representatives from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation were presenting environmental groups with aspects of Cuomo’s plan.
According to Wilbur’s blog, the state would begin by approving 50 wells in New York, but located along the Millennium Pipeline, a 442-mile connection running from Canada to New York. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation would require gathering pipelines and processing systems be in place before the first wells, a demand aimed at limiting venting of methane.
Other aspects of the plan:
- Three monitoring wells would be required around each gas well.
- DEC staff will be required to complete 13 on-site inspections during the permitting and drilling of each well.
- Although fracking includes classified hazardous materials, fracking waste is exempt from federal hazardous waste laws. And state laws are subject to national exemption for the industry, so there is no way around this. With this exemption, the DEC will require a “closed-loop” process, where waste fluids would be stored in tanks and some of it will be “recycled,” but there is no technical definition for “recycling” or ways to effectively measure this. Accounting for how much waste will be produced, and where it will end up, remains a major issue for environmental groups.
- Permitting for each well would require a 15-day public comment period, but no public hearings.
- Inconclusive discussion regarding well plugging.
- The proposed plan would apply only to high volume hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. While vertical wells and those using 300,000 gallons or less of hydraulic fracking fluid would be exempt.
- Still up in the air is how the DEC will pay for all the added inspections and how the state will deal with home rule where courts have allowed local communities to ban drilling.