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DEC Backtracks on Public Meetings
September 7th, 2011

Environmental groups are responding to the Department of Environmental Conservation’s fracking report and they continue to say that the public comment period should be extended. The DEC does seem to have extended the comment period to over 90 days but not to the requested 180. Environmental groups say that New Yorkers are still recovering from tropical storm Irene and need more time to process the report. A press release from a coalition of environmental groups called New York Water Rangers demands the DEC add two more public meetings.

Originally the DEC website said there would be 4 public hearings. “The meetings will be held in Broome, Steuben and Sullivan counties, as well as New York City. Dates and locations will be announced shortly,” read the website.

However, DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis e-mailed me earlier to say, “To clarify, no final decisions have been made on the locations of the public hearings. The hearings will be held in counties within the Marcellus Shale region, as well as New York City. Exact dates and locations will be released in early October.” The original statement seemed fairly clear.

Anyway, the Water Rangers’ response is fairly blistering:

It is clear that the Cuomo Administration is focused on permitting fracking in New York by January and limiting the involvement of concerned citizens who are not convinced that fracking is right for New York, said Sarah Eckel, Legislative & Policy Director, Citizens Campaign for the Environment. Hydro-fracking will dramatically change New York communities and have lasting impacts on our natural resources. Why is Governor Cuomo intent on fast-tracking a process the DEC is not prepared to regulate?

The groups are concerned that the DEC does not call for banning any hazardous chemicals that may be used in fracking, that the report does not include an analysis of public health impacts and that it does not address the DEC’s “historically low” staffing levels and how that will effect their ability to monitor fracking and issue permits.

Here is the full release:

“After a preliminary review of the 1,000+ pages of the revised draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS), the document that would guide gas drilling by means of hydraulic fracturing or fracking and horizontal drilling in deep shale, environmental groups called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to schedule additional public hearings in communities likely to experience gas exploration. The groups also renewed their call on the Governor to assess frackings public health and community impacts before the state permits drilling. The revised fracking document includes new assessments of traffic, noise and visual impacts, but does not include estimates of related health impacts due to increased industrial activity.

It is clear that the Cuomo Administration is focused on permitting fracking in New York by January and limiting the involvement of concerned citizens who are not convinced that fracking is right for New York, said Sarah Eckel, Legislative & Policy Director, Citizens Campaign for the Environment. Hydro-fracking will dramatically change New York communities and have lasting impacts on our natural resources. Why is Governor Cuomo intent on fast-tracking a process the DEC is not prepared to regulate?

“The damage wrought by Hurricane Irene requires that New Yorkers be given additional time to respond to the dSGEIS as we struggle to restore power, clear roads, and address flooding. The storm’s resulting damage also reinforces the need for a prohibition against drilling in all important watersheds, not just those serving NYC and Syracuse, to prevent irremediable water contamination resulting from natural disasters. Watersheds do not exist in isolation. New Yorkers are in this together whether we choose to recognize it or not. We’re calling on Governor Cuomo to please extend the public comment period,” said Nicole Dillingham, President, Otsego 2000.

Upon preliminary review, the organizations’ objections include the fact state leaders do not propose to ban any of the toxic chemicals used in fracking fluid, have failed to include an analysis of public health impacts. The groups continue to cite DEC’s historically low staff levels as reason to believe the agency would be forced to cut corners with reviews or fast-track permits despite documented risks of industrial drilling. Additional comments will be available in the coming weeks after the groups have reviewed the document thoroughly.

If drilling goes forward, those of us who signed gas leases before the dangers of shale gas development were known are the ones who will suffer the worst consequences, said Ellen Harrison, Director of FLEASED.

The organizations, all partners in the New York Water Rangers Campaign, are calling on Governor Cuomo and the DEC to include at least two additional public hearings in the vast Upstate New York region.

“How Governor Cuomo chooses to safeguard New Yorks communities and waters from fracking will determine his environmental legacy, said Katherine Nadeau, Water & Natural Resources Program Director for Environmental Advocates of New York. “Does he want that legacy to include putting the state at risk by allowing toxic chemicals to be pumped through New Yorks waters or allowing fracking to proceed without so much as an evaluation of potential health impacts? I hope not.

The groups noted the need for Governor Cuomo to approach gas development in New York in a comprehensive manner, as the industry would be overseen by several state agencies, including the Public Service Commission, Department of Agriculture and Markets, Department of Health, and others. Governor Cuomo is the only person who has the power to coordinate multiple agencies’ efforts and protect New Yorkers from the full array of impacts from gas production and infrastructure development. Aspects of fracking under DECs control cannot legitimately be examined in isolation from other impacts, as they currently are in the revised draft SGEIS.

People who will bear the brunt of dirty drilling should not be rushed through the review and comment process, said Deborah Goldberg, an attorney with Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm. The Governor should welcome thorough public input, which will help the SGEIS to withstand legal scrutiny.

In many other states, including nearby Pennsylvania, industrial drilling has already damaged health, water, air, and land,” said Nadia Steinzor of Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project. Before it completes the review process, the DEC must demonstrate the will to put real protections in place and make industry do better and be held accountableotherwise New York will just be taking the same irresponsible road as other states.

Given that shale gas has existed for millions of years, it is unnecessary and irresponsible for DEC and the Governor to rush to permit this activity, said Kate Hudson, Riverkeepers Watershed Program Director. New Yorkers deserve a full opportunity to share their concerns regarding the environmental, health and safety impacts associated with shale gas extraction. The extension of the proposed 60 day comment period to 90 days on both the voluminous SGEIS just released today and on regulations still to be released sometime in October does not afford citizens of New York that opportunity. In addition, the failure to schedule hearings for communities in the Central and Western portions of the state that will also be subject to shale gas extraction denies the residents of those regions the same opportunity to have their voices heard. Equally important, DEC should take the time to put in place truly rigorous regulations and a full complement of regulatory and enforcement personnel necessary to implement those regulations, and not begin issuing permits as soon as the SGEIS is finalized. Rushing this process is a recipe for disaster.

Earlier this month, 76 organizations released a letter to Governor Cuomo and DEC Commissioner Martens calling for a 180-day comment period along with public hearings in at least the same four areas where the DEC held hearings on the 2009 draft fracking documentBinghamton, Sullivan County, New York City and Delaware County. The letter also called on state leaders to hold hearings in as many of the communities likely to be affected by fracking in both Marcellus and Utica shales as possible. Many New Yorkers in these areas did not have the opportunity to attend a public hearing in 2009.

To frack a gas well, millions of gallons of water, sand, and toxic chemicals are pumped deep underground at high pressure. This fractures the rock that has trapped the gas for millennia and allows it to escape. From start to finish, gas development that relies on fracking is an industrial process that threatens our water. State after state, from Wyoming to Pennsylvania, has documented its dangers. New York cant afford to put short-term gas profits ahead of the long-term health of our water and our communities.”

By on September 7, 2011, 2:30 pm
In category: Albany,Economy,Environment,Eye on Albany | 2 Comments »

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2 Responses to “DEC Backtracks on Public Meetings”

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