State Legislature stays out of fracking, for now
Governor Cuomo is indicating he may very soon release a plan to begin limited hydrofracking in New York, but the state legislature left for the summer without acting on any legislation that would speed up the process, or slow it down.
There have been reports for some time now that the Cuomo Administration would soon begin to allow limited hydraulic fracturing by gas drilling companies in some Southern Tier in communities where most of the residents want fracking.
The New York State legislature left the Capitol for the summer, however, without agreeing to a number of fracking related pieces of legislation.
If fracking is to take place, Cuomo’s Department of Environmental Conservation has said it will need to increase staff beyond the present 16 employees who are authorized to issue gas drilling permits. They also want to set up a structure of taxes and fees on the gas drilling industry to help balance the state’s budget and pay for costs incurred from the industrialization of portions of upstate New York.
“If the governor is going to go ahead and green light this anyway, then the Department of Environmental Conservation needs the resources and the staff to oversee the state’s laws and regulations ,” says Katherine Nadaeu, with Environmental Advocates, who says without the additional staff the new rules would be just “words on paper”.
The legislature did not act on imposing new fees or beefing up permitting staff because Governor Cuomo did not propose anything.
An advisory committee formed by Cuomo’s Department of Environmental Conservation, was to come up with a tax and fee structure. But it has not met since January, though a spokeswoman for the DEC has consistently said that meetings will again take place.
The legislature also took no action on a number of bills to impose stricter regulations on fracking, despite repeated protests from anti fracking groups that visited the Capitol on a near weekly basis in the final months of the session.
“Don’t make our homes a sacrifice zone,” they chanted.
Environmental Advocates is also against fracking in New York, saying that the state is unprepared at this point to conduct drilling safely.
Nadaeu says her group and others are seeking greater protections for drinking water and public health before fracking could occur, and to that end, have been pressing the legislature to authorize a health impact study on fracking. They would also like to see waste water from the drilling practice classified as hazardous waste. Under federal law, the products do not have to be regarded as hazardous waste, but states are free to impose stricter standards. DEC Commissioner Joe Martens says he’ll regulate the waste water as though it were medical waste, but Nadaeu says that’s not good enough.
“It’s a very great talking point,” says Nadaeu, who says it “doesn’t’ provide the protections” that a hazardous waste classification would.
While the state Assembly passed bills to classify the water as hazardous waste, and to begin a health study, the Senate did not pass the bills, and the legislature left town with no agreements.
Nadeau says it may be the 2013 session before any of the bills are taken up again, and it’s likely that any new permitting staff or new taxes or fees on the drilling industry will be imposed in Governor Cuomo’s next budget, which also is not due until January 2013.
The Department of Environmental Conservation has said for months now that it is still reviewing over 66,000 public comments generated from a draft environmental impact study. The final version has not yet been released.
Jim Smith is with the Independent Oil and Gas Association, a trade group representing gas and oil companies in New York. He says his group continues to have faith that Cuomo’s environmental agency will issue the right regulations to ensure safe drilling.
“I think the New York DEC will get this right,” Smith said. “When people start experiencing drilling in their communities, they’re going to see jobs.”
But the oil and gas companies are urging Governor Cuomo to reconsider any plan that would limit fracking to specific parts of the Southern Tier, while leaving out for now the rest of available private land in the Marcellus Shale. They say the debate has dragged on for more than four years now, and they are tired of waiting.