New York's top environmental regulator, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens, says his agency will likely finish its review of hydrofracking late next spring. That means drilling permits for fracking could quickly follow.
That's a faster timeline than expected. DEC officials had previously been much less specific, saying their report will probably be finished 'sometime next year.'
'That’s really alarming,' says Robert Moore, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York, 'I’d be curious to know how [the DEC] reached that conclusion, unless they’ve already determined an outcome … Clearly that would signal to me that there continues to be pressure to get this done sooner rather than later.'
Drillers see it as a good sign. Brad Gill is the executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, a trade association representing the industry. He wrote this an an e-mail statement:
'Given the work that the DEC has left to do, late spring seems like a realistic time frame to begin issuing permits. It’s been a three-and-a-half year wait, and during that time, we’ve watched as businesses left New York for other states. It’s encouraging to think about moving forward in spring of 2012 and realizing the benefits that have eluded New Yorkers.'
Earlier this week, the DEC extended the public comment period on its review of fracking, known as Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS). The comment period was originally supposed to end on December 12th, but will now go until January 11, 2012.
Agency officials cited the huge volume of comments they've received on their latest draft of the report, which has already topped 10,000 in just three months. The DEC also saw an unprecedented turnout to a series of four public hearings about hydrofracking held around the state last month. More than 6,000 people attended the meetings.
The SGEIS will determine whether New York moves forward to allow hydrofracking. The DEC's current position is that the controversial drilling technique can be done safely, with strict regulations.
Martens was in our studio today to answer questions from viewers about hydrofracking. That interview will be broadcast on the December 9 edition of New York NOW (check your local listings).