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New York Advisory Panel Puts Off Fracking Report Till 2012

Members of a key advisory panel in New York that would someday govern hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the state say they won't meet their Nov. 1 deadline because they need more time to gather critical information and budget requests from state agencies.

Meanwhile a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday found that voters in New York are almost evenly divided over whether the state's portion of the Marcellus Shale should be developed. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg also lauded Gov. Andrew Cuomo's position on fracking.

New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joseph Martens announced Tuesday that the High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel (HVHF) he appointed would not meet a Nov. 1 deadline to complete an interim report.

"The panel will be given sufficient time to this process," DEC spokeswoman Lisa King told Shale Daily on Thursday, adding that the HVHF will meet again on Nov. 9. "Panel members suggested that state and community resource needs and potential funding sources be looked at together. This [delay] will enable the panel and DEC to review these related programs together."

King said the HVHF would issue its report "sometime in the first part of next year. They will take the time it needs to consider the issues and come up with thoughtful recommendations."

The delay was reportedly welcome news to the elected officials, industry experts and environmental advocates who make up the panel, which Martens appointed in July (see Shale Daily, July 5).

"The panel is asking a lot of very important questions," Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (D-Binghamton), a panel member, told the Ithaca Journal. "One whole set of issues has to do with state resources and what agencies besides DEC are going to need to provide additional staffing and equipment, and those numbers haven't come back to us yet."

Another panel member -- Mark Boling, executive vice president of Houston-based Southwestern Energy -- told the newspaper that the energy industry welcomed the DEC's decision to give the panel more time to finish its job.

"[The delay is] not a concern for me at all because I think that [the DEC's decision] is the right thing to do to make sure it gets done right," Boling said. "If we start moving on in the process and we find out that a lot of folks feel like it was not done properly because it was rushed, that doesn't help industry or the public."

Although several media reports identified the state Public Service Commission and the Health, Transportation and Agriculture departments as the agencies needing more time to formulate their budget needs if fracking becomes legal, King said the DEC hasn't identified any specific agencies for the delay.

"They are all a part of the decision making process," King said. "There's no one specific agency [that] is still trying to collect the budget figures."

King reiterated that the DEC would not issue any fracking permits until the panel completed its work and state regulatory guidelines were in place. "The timing is less important than ensuring the thoroughness of the panel's review and recommendations," she said.

Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York (IOGA), also said the industry respected the panel's request for additional time.

"The panel should complete its work in a timely manner, and we certainly hope that 2012 will see permits flowing and wells drilled," Gill told the Public News Service.

According to the Quinnipiac poll, 44% of voters in New York support drilling because of the economic benefits while 43% oppose it over environmental concerns. Those figures indicate that support for drilling has slipped since polls were published on Sept. 21 and Aug. 11, indicating voters backed drilling by marks of 45%-41% and 47%-42%, respectively (see Shale Daily, Sept. 22; Aug. 15).

"When it comes to natural gas drilling, some New Yorkers have been thinking green as in trees and some think green as in dollar bills," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "Modest support for drilling in our first poll in August has given way to an evenly divided public opinion on what promises to be a hotly debated issue. There is agreement on the arguments from both sides: Will it help the economy? Yes. Will it endanger the environment? Yes."

Capitalnewyork.com, a New York City-based media wesbite, said Bloomberg endorsed fracking during a press conference at a clothing store in the city on Thursday.

"I think the governor, our governor, has it just right," Bloomberg said. "Governor Cuomo said he didn't want fracking in the watershed [of New York City]. I agree with that. But you shouldn't walk away from an energy source that we need."

The mayor added that he believed "almost all the gas throughout the country comes from [fracking]. And there's no free lunch. You're gonna have choices. You want more nuclear? Do you want more coal? Do you want more natural gas?... [The] alternative source that's the most practical at the moment is not solar, wind, someday maybe, but for the moment it is natural gas."

The proposed fracking rules unveiled by the DEC in September are based upon a revised draft supplemental generic environmental impact statement on the practice (see Shale Daily, Sept. 8). Those recommendations include requiring operators to disclose the chemicals used in fracking, and prohibiting drilling in all primary aquifers, the watersheds of New York City and Syracuse, and all state-owned land. A 60-day comment period is currently in effect.

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