New York State Moratorium Continues until the Environmental Assessment is Completed

by Duane Nichols on May 27, 2011

The fracking moratorium in New York state will not be lifted on July 1st, although this is the planned date for release of the 2nd version of the draft environmental assessment being prepared by the Department of Environmental Conservation. Additional time will be needed for the public, and for private industry, to review the draft and provide comments back to the DEC. Then the DEC will need time to review the comments and make appropriate changes to the assessment.

Former Governor Paterson’s executive order directed his DEC to issue a new draft environmental review document before moving forward.  In so doing, he effectively acknowledged that the more than 13,000 public comments received on the initial, deeply flawed draft from the fall of 2009 raised significant issues that required new analysis – and a new public review and comment period. 

The current Governor Cuomo extended Paterson’s executive order.  Since that time, DEC has been continuing its evaluation so it can issue the new draft environmental review. That involves reviewing the thousands of public comments submitted almost a year-and-a-half ago and determining what additional studies need to be completed. The agency was heavily gutted by staffing and budgetary cuts in the last administration, and their new leadership is still new. 

After the new draft is released, DEC is going to have to provide a new public comment and review period, perhaps 90 days. After that, the agency is legally required to do exactly what it’s doing right now – evaluate, and respond to, every substantive comment received on the new draft before issuing a final environmental review document and completing the process. (There is still some risk that the state will cave to pressure from big oil and gas corporations and rush the process, putting New York’s safe drinking water supply, air quality and communities in jeopardy.) 

In recent annual  meetings, 41% of shareholders at Chevron and 28% at ExxonMobil voted in favor of resolutions asking for a report on the environmental and financial risks of hydraulic fracturing in natural gas drilling. While these resolutions did  not pass, the message has been sent to corporate executives that stockholders are very concerned. Jon Jensen of the Park Foundation said that shareholders need assurance that companies are candidly disclosing risks, due to fracking chemicals or due to wastewater disposal, and are adopting best management practices to minimize these risks.

Exxon who paid $35 billion for XTO Energy in 2010 will be looking to recoup some of that investment in the near future. Chevron recently signed an agreement to acquire about 228,000 high-quality acres in the Marcellus shale, mostly in southern Pennsylvania; and, their purchase of Atlas Energy was completed this past February.

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