Cuomo’s office expands fracking review, sets July 1 end date
ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office has ordered an expansion of the state’s ongoing review of hydraulic fracturing after a natural gas well blowout in April sent chemical-laced water into a Pennsylvania creek, according to an internal memo sent this week.
In the memo sent Friday to Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens, Director of State Operations Howard Glaser ordered the department to complete an on-site inspection of the Bradford County, Pa. gas well, and to include any information from the site in the DEC’s environmental review of hydrofracking.
Glaser also asked for a second draft of that review, called the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, to be “completed for issuance by July 1, 2011,” marking the first hard deadline placed on the DEC’s hydrofracking study since it was launched in July 2008.
The April 19 blowout received national attention after a Chesapeake Energy gas well in LeRoy Township spewed about 10,000 gallons of chemical water used in the hydrofracking process, leading to the temporary evacuation of seven nearby homes. The incident is under investigation by the state of Pennsylvania.
High-volume hydrofracking is used by industry to break up tight shale formations and release natural gas. The process involves the blasting of millions of gallons of the chemically treated water deep underground to reach the formations, such as the Marcellus Shale, which sits under New York’s Southern Tier and portions of the Hudson Valley.
A DEC spokesman said the department will immediately comply with Glaser’s memo.
Former Gov. David Paterson launched the DEC’s environmental review when he was still in office, putting hydrofracking on hold until its completion. A draft released in 2009 received more than 13,000 public comments.
One environmental group was pleased with the Cuomo administration’s decision to include the well blowout in the state’s review, but said the DEC shouldn’t be saddled down with any deadlines.
“We’re pleased that Governor Cuomo recognizes the potential dangers of dirty gas drilling by means of hydraulic fracturing … and the lessons to be learned from Pennsylvania’s abysmal track record,” said David Gahl, policy director of Environmental Advocates of New York. “However, (we think) the DEC should take all the time the agency needs to study and addressfracking’s health and environmental risks and not be bound to an arbitrary deadline to release the revised draft” of the review.
In April, the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York called on Cuomo to move things along, writing in a letter to the governor that the “controversy regarding the prospect of expanding natural gas exploration in the Southern Tier” was “borne from a combination of political agendas and misinformation.”
“Our industry is asking the state to provide an economic opportunity that is balanced by environmental protection, and to expedite the release of the (review) and move swiftly toward a responsible conclusion,” wrote Brad Gill, executive director of the trade group.
Permits for high-volume hydraulic fracturing won’t be issued by the DEC until a final version of the review is completed. The second draft will be followed by a comment period of at least 30 days before it’s reviewed again by the department.