The New York Assembly has overwhelmingly approved legislation to limit hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the state's portion of the Marcellus Shale, but whether the latest attempt to limit drilling will be approved in the state Senate remained a question on Tuesday.
The bill (A 7400) approved on Monday by a preliminary tally of 91-46 would prohibit fracking until June 1, 2012. The state's Southern Tier and part of the Hudson Valley sit atop the Marcellus Shale formation, which extends across five states.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), who has pushed for the fracking ban previously, said a moratorium would give New York time to assess the risks associated with horizontal drilling and fracking. For three years state officials have argued the pros and cons of fracking.
Silver said he understands upstate New York's economic woes but said recent environmental disasters, including the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the nuclear disaster in Japan, show "what happens when you rely too heavily on the expertise of profit-driven industries."
The latest bill was voted out of the Assembly's Environmental Conservation Committee in May. It states that it "will provide the legislature with additional time to assess the true environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing" and allow the state enough time to adequately review a fracking study under way by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
Last December former Gov. David Paterson vetoed a similar bill, which would have codified into law a moratorium on fracking through May 15 (see Shale Daily, Dec. 14, 2010). At the same time he extended until July 1 a deadline for the DEC to prepare a supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS) on horizontal drilling and fracking in the Marcellus.
There had been concern that the DEC would not have enough time to adequately prepare the SGEIS by Paterson's deadline, but late last month regulators were ordered to complete the study by July 1 (see Shale Daily, June 1). As part of their review they also were ordered to visit the site of a Chesapeake Energy Corp. well blowout, which occurred in April in northeast Pennsylvania (see Shale Daily, April 25).
Industry advocates are concerned that the latest effort by the Assembly to prohibit fracking would hinder the state's economic growth.
"Further delays simply are unwise and unnecessary," said Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York (IOGA), which issued a memorandum opposing the legislation late Monday. The bill "is premised on bad science and misinformation," Gill said.
"Enacting this legislation, in essence, would put people out of work that results in no demonstrated environmental harm and is not even under DEC review, in order to effectuate a moratorium that is principally symbolic," the memorandum said. "Symbols can have great importance, but particularly in our current terrible economic straits, I cannot agree to put individuals out of work for a symbolic act."
IOGA said drilling permit application fees paid to the DEC total about $1 million each year, "prior to any Marcellus Shale exploration," and the revenue would be lost under a moratorium. "Additionally, more jobs will be lost!"
However, some landowners and environmental groups said the legislation, if enacted, would allow New York to assess drilling problems that have been encountered by other states, including Pennsylvania. "The fact of the matter is every state that has rushed into this process and has simply accepted the assurances of the natural gas industry has come to regret it," said Robert Moore, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York.
Whether the latest legislative effort will pass muster in the narrowly controlled Republican state Senate is unclear. The companion Senate bill (S 5592) was proposed by Sen. David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown), but it has not been brought up before a committee, according to a senate official.
New York Senate Deputy Majority Leader Thomas Libous (R-Binghamton) said Monday that DEC experts should be allowed to "finish their work" before politicians advance another bill.