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November 29, 2012

 

Reaction mixed to DEC fracking delay

People on both sides of debate see positives in 90-day extension to finalize rules

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

Local officials are cautiously optimistic about the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s filing of an extension to allow more time in drafting its regulations governing hydrofracking, the controversial process of obtaining shale gas.
The state’s deadline for release of the regulations was today but state officials want more time to allow for a comprehensive health study to be completed.
Emily DeSantis, spokesperson for the DEC, said in an e-mail Wednesday that the extension period expires Feb. 27 and allows 90 more days from today for the department to complete its regulations. The DEC will also fully consider the health study and revise its Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement accordingly, she said, though gave no time frame for release of that document.
A 30-day public comment period will also be included in this 90-day time frame. The comment period will begin when the department releases its revised draft regulations, said DeSantis.
Local officials are lauding the extension while some concern remains about the scope of the health study and its apparent lack of transparency. The delay was expected since DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens announced Sept. 20 the department would not release its regulations governing hydrofracking until the public health impacts were analyzed.
Hydrofracking is the process of injecting chemically treated water into underground shale to release gas.
It has come under fire from environmentalists who are concerned about water contamination and it has been defended by the gas industry as a safe and efficient way of extracting underground gas.
The DEC released its draft SGEIS last year and the revised SGEIS will consider the findings of the state health study. State Health Commissioner Nirav Shah is getting input from outside experts in assessing possible health impacts.
Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton faults the DEC and state Health Department for not involving the public in the process of studying health impacts. She wants experts to be allowed to give input to the state about what constitutes a comprehensive health review.
Lifton (D-Ithaca) wants the governor and DEC to withdraw the SGEIS and start over with a scoping process that allows for public input.
“Human health deserves to be one of our main areas of concern in this process, not something tagged on at the end as an afterthought, and dealt with in a secret review to boot. That secrecy is adding insult to injury,” Lifton stated Wednesday.
Some local officials say the extra time to craft regulations is a sign that the state is being careful and attempting to release a comprehensive document.
Cortland County Public Health Engineer Mike Ryan said it makes sense to wait for the results of the Health Department study.
“It’s worth taking the time to really assess the health impacts as they should be assessed,” Ryan said.
He said he is interested in what the health study concludes and would add his comments in any public comment portion of the draft regulations.
Stan Scobie, a member of the local anti-drilling group Gas Drilling Awareness of Cortland County, said the state is trying to do a “competent job based on decent science.”
“I’ll be looking at the draft regulations that will be published soon, compared to the previous version of regulations and see if they’re better,” Scobie said.
Henry Kramer, a founding member of the Dryden Safe Energy Coalition, a group that promotes safe energy development, called the health study “redundant and unnecessary.”He opposes any further delay in the regulations.
“The state has had four years to study this problem and any further extensions at this time are publicly unwarranted and will be troublesome to the industry which may go away,” Kramer said.
Kramer said New York could learn from other states, where hydrofracking is occurring, instead of duplicating studies.

 

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