Environment/Public Health Advocates Find Flaws in NY Regulatory Plan

by Dee Fulton on July 21, 2011

On June 30, 2011, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced the release of preliminary  revised regulations on hydraulic fracturing.  I was initially impressed with the scope and depth of the regulation, particularly since the regulations included banning fracking on public lands and air pollution regulations.

However, the New York Water Rangers Campaign, a collection of seven public health/environmental advocate groups, issued a press release that itemizes what the groups have collectively prioritized as the Top Ten Fracking Flaws in the preliminary revised regulations.  Below is an abbreviated version of the list.

1. New York State isn’t proposing to ban any chemicals, even those known to be toxic and carcinogenic.
2. The preliminary draft allows drilling waste to escape treatment as hazardous waste, even if it is in fact hazardous under the law. This means fracking waste could be sent to treatment facilities unable to properly treat it, putting the health and safety of our waters and communities at grave risk.
3. The state proposes allowing sewage plants to treat drilling wastes.
4. Drinking water supplies would be inadequately protected. The preliminary draft increases buffers and setbacks from aquifers and wells. However the protections are inconsistent and can be waived in some instances.
5. Some fracking restrictions would have sunset dates.
6. The preliminary draft does not analyze public health impacts, despite the fact that fracking-related air pollution and the potential for water contamination have serious effects on people—especially the elderly and children, and communities downwind and downstream of proposed fracking operations. There is growing evidence of negative health impacts related to gas extraction in other states.
7. The DEC proposes issuing permits before formal rulemaking is complete, a backward move that leaves New York’s waters and communities at risk.
8. The state is breaking up environmental impact reviews. The thousands of miles of pipelines or compressor stations required for drilling to get the resulting gas to market will be reviewed by a different agency under a different process.
9. While proposing to put the New York City and Syracuse watersheds off- limits to drilling, critical water supply infrastructure would not be protected. The state proposes…….(an inadequate)….. buffer around New York City drinking water infrastructure in which only an additional review would be required and upon which projects could be permitted—not a formal ban.
10. New York’s environmental agency has been subject to steep budget and staff cuts and does not have adequate staff or resources to properly oversee fracking, even if every possible protection were in place.

“Without providing the necessary measures that will prevent pollution from drilling and fracking, New York’s communities and environment will suffer like Pennsylvania’s,where drilling is running wild. On the whole, the revised Draft doesn’t cure the ills of gas development that are the most dangerous so the industry’s interests will win out over public health,” said Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

A press release by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation summarizes the preliminary changes.  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.

The complete revised draft is expected to be released for public comment and review in August. The groups are strongly requesting the DEC to expand public comment period from 60 days, one month less than the public comment period for the first draft of the SGEIS, to at least 180 days.

The full 1,095 page Preliminary Revised Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement is available here.

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