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New York Receives Thousands of Frack Comments Before Deadline

Ask and you shall receive.

That's what has happened in New York with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The agency received a deluge of public comments over its recommendations in a revised supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS) on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) before a Wednesday deadline.

DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis told NGI's Shale Daily that the agency had received a record 20,800 public comments as of Monday over the proposed fracking rules (see Shale Daily, Jan 10). She said the DEC has received eight boxes of letters and two petitions since then from groups and individuals who support and oppose fracking.

"[Many] more could be in the mail that we may not receive until early next week," DeSantis said Wednesday.

The Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York (IOGA) said it was critical of the DEC's proposed regulations, calling them "restrictive, inequitable and unjustified." It planned to formally deliver its comments to the DEC on Wednesday.

"In its current form, the [SGEIS] imposes permit guidelines that fail to strike a balance between the future exploration of New York's vast natural gas reserves and the appropriate, necessary protection of our environmental resources," said IOGA Executive Director Brad Gill. "Under the proposed framework, world class companies that are contemplating investment in New York see the 'Open for Business' sign as attractive, but the fine print is neither welcoming nor reasonable."

Dan Fitzsimmons, president of Joint Landowners Coalition of New York Inc. (JLCNY), told NGI's Shale Daily that he delivered more than 6,700 letters in support of gas drilling to the DEC offices in Albany on Tuesday, and was mailing perhaps another 1,000 on Wednesday.

"We're hearing [from the DEC] that everything is going to move forward," Fitzsimmons said Wednesday. "They're going to be able to get them done."

Fitzsimmons said JLCNY -- which has 70,000 members and is in essence a coalition of 38 organizations in support of shale gas development in New York -- had encapsulated all 23 of their points into a single document, then had its members and supporters send their own letters with that as a template.

"We decided to do it this way because we didn't want to bog the process down and clog it up any more," Fitzsimmons said. "We know that's what the other side is trying to do. They'll have people sign 14 letters at parties and submit thousands of them. They're trying to delay things as long as they can. Our intent was not to do that. If we had wanted to, we could have broken down our 23 comments into individual letters, had 6,000 people sign them and turned in 120,000."

The Poughkeepsie Journal reported Tuesday that its Albany bureau was able to review the public comments filed with the DEC through Dec. 16 after submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The newspaper said the comments appeared to oppose fracking by at least a 10-to-1 margin.

Among them was a technical memorandum submitted by the nonprofit environmental group Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, which asserted that fracking "cannot be conducted in a manner that is protective of both human health and the environment," until several issues are addressed. It called on the DEC to hold off on issuing fracking permits until it has implemented "an adequate wastewater management system" and higher fees.

"It's not about how many letters are for and how many are against -- it's about the content that's being turned in," Fitzsimmons said. "We feel that our content is good. We want to help the process move forward, in the proper way, and have gas drilling happen in New York in a good, environmentally safe way."

Fitzsimmons also took issue with the way the DEC is accepting comments from anyone, not just New York residents.

"Emails are coming in from all across the country, but they're not New York residents," Fitzsimmons said. "Anybody can send an email. You could be in Africa. These [anti-drilling] groups are trying to get everybody across the country [to leave negative comments]. It's wrong and I don't think [the DEC] should have done it that way. But their response to us was they wanted to get good ideas from anybody, they don't care from whom."

The SGEIS is to provide the framework for DEC's fracking permit process. In July 2008 then-Gov. David Paterson ordered the DEC to complete the SGEIS, which effectively placed a moratorium on drilling horizontal wells in the New York portion of the Marcellus Shale. Paterson requested the SGEIS because the original impact statement was completed in 1992, before technological changes in shale development.

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