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Sponsor Sees Limits to New York Fracking Ban

New York state lawmakers have no plans to extend their proposed ban on the issuance of new permits for drilling involving hydraulic fracturing (fracking) beyond the May 15 deadline included in a bill recently passed by both chambers of the state's legislature, according to Assemblyman Robert Sweeney (D-Suffolk County).

"There's been no discussion" of extending the fracking ban, Sweeney told Shale Daily Wednesday.

The bill (A11443), which would place a moratorium on fracking permit approvals by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) until May 15, was approved by the New York State Assembly Monday (see Shale Daily, Dec. 1). The New York Senate approved the temporary drilling ban in August (see Daily GPI, Aug. 5). The bill requires the signature of Gov. David Paterson before the fracking ban goes into effect.

Sweeney, who is chairman of the Assembly's Environmental Conservation Committee and sponsored the Assembly version of the bill, denied the claims of some opponents of the ban who have said it would retroactively halt drilling at previously permitted sites.

"It only affects new permits, and the DEC tells me that there are very few of those -- and most of them come in around the springtime, which is when this will expire...nothing that's existing is affected and no renewals are affected," Sweeney said.

The ban would affect vertical drilling operations, he said, "and, of course, there are no permits being issued for horizontal hydrofracking anyway," he said.

That's because Paterson in July 2008 directed the DEC to prepare an SGEIS (Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement), effectively placing a moratorium on much of the Marcellus development in the state until it is completed (see Daily GPI, July 28, 2008). The SGEIS is not expected to be ready until next year (see Shale Daily, Oct. 13). The possibility of the regulatory agency issuing the SGEIS and returning to "business as usual" without some kind of legislative oversight prompted lawmakers to write the fracking ban bill, Sweeney said.

"I think there was some concern certainly at the time the bill was developed last spring that the DEC might finish its work and begin issuing permits without an adequate opportunity for the legislature to review their work and weigh in on the subject," Sweeney said. "We believe that the moratorium is going to provide an adequate amount of time for both of those things to happen -- for the DEC to finish its work, and then for us to decide whether what they've done is the public policy that we want to move forward with."

In a draft SGEIS released last year, the DEC recommended that exploration and production companies wanting to drill New York's gas-rich Marcellus Shale should have to disclose the contents of fracking fluid they would use, test water wells in drilling areas and meet a series of other requirements before fracking or drilling (see Daily GPI, Oct. 2, 2009).

During a radio appearance Tuesday, Paterson said his administration continues to study the draft SGEIS "because additional information we got from public hearings and input from interest groups who are very concerned about the water supply and the ancillary damage to the environment that hydrofracking would cause forced us to determine, at this point, that we will not come to a conclusion by the end of this administration. That we will not."

Paterson has 10 days after the bill is delivered to his desk to sign or veto it. As of Wednesday afternoon, the bill had yet to be delivered to the governor, a spokesman told Shale Daily. If approved by Paterson, the ban on drilling permits would go into effect immediately.

The fracking ban legislation had been supported by dozens of environmental groups, but industry organizations, including the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York and the American Petroleum Institute, warned that it could jeopardize jobs across the state (see Shale Daily, Nov. 30). Part of the concern has to do with the basic political tenet that once the initial battle has been fought and a policy is written into law, it's much easier to extend it or reshape it through amendments.

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