Devilish Details of NY Fracking Proposal

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by MORGAN LYLE
Fly-fishing: TU wary about DEC’s fracking proposal

(first published in The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y., 8/4/11)

The Department of Environmental Conser­vation has too few inspectors for the 1,600 hydro-fracking wells it expects each year, and the rules about where fracking will be allowed and where it won’t are too easy to get around, according to Trout Unlimited’s water expert in Albany.

At present, the state has just 14 inspectors, TU reports. Despite its vague assurance that permits will be issued “consistent with the DEC’s ability to review and oversee,” concern remains about whether wells will be built safely, the water they use won’t be stolen from trout streams, the toxic waste they generate will be disposed of correctly and waterways will be protected from damage by construction and development.

And while the DEC’s proposal for drilling rules says gas wells must be at least 150 feet from streams — a ridiculously small setback, if you ask me — it also says the DEC “can review each proposed well pad location on a site-by-site basis and can approve drilling within these areas after an additional environmental review,” TU said.

“While the preliminary revised draft environmental impact study is appreciably better than the 2009 version, Trout Unlimited remains concerned that the Department of Environmental Conservation’s assessment for regulating high-volume hydraulic fracturing does not provide adequate assurance that New York’s waterways, fish and wildlife will be protected from the impacts of gas drilling,” said Katy Dunlap, TU’s eastern water project director. “Nearly each and every protection described in the environmental assessment has a provision that allows the protection to be waived or reconsidered after a few years. That’s cause for concern.”

TU has been examining the devils in the details of the DEC’s proposed environmental impact statement for fracking since it was released July 8. In addition to a lack of inspectors and leeway in setbacks, TU is also concerned that cumulative effects of water withdrawals on rivers haven’t been addressed, localities may have too little say about drilling sites and the prohibition on drilling on state land may also have loopholes.

After Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed revised fracking rules July 1, a Siena College poll found New Yorkers were split evenly on whether fracking should be allowed in New York or not. A sizable majority of respondents, however, said they trusted fracking opponents more than energy companies — no surprise, perhaps, in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the West Virgina coal mine explosion and the Fukoshima nuclear plant disaster in Japan.

As details of the impact of fracking in New York become clear, the 50-50 split in public opinion may change. A 60-day period for public comments on the revised proposal will begin in late summer, the DEC said.

If you want to know how strongly people feel about fracking in the areas where it would take place, ask the Delaware River Basin Commission, which regulates the Delaware and its

watersheds in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

The DRBC is preparing its own proposal for fracking rules in its jurisdiction, which includes some of the best trout fishing country in the United States. The DRBC expected 10,000 comments, and voted in December to hire a company for $42,000 to organize them.

So far, there have been 68,000 comments — 44,500 form letters, petitions with 19,500 signatures, and 4,800 unique oral or written statements. Last month, the DRBC boosted the amount it needs to spend on organizing the public outcry to $73,000.

Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at morganlyle@gmail.com.

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