Three key lawmakers in New York say one month isn’t long enough for the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to receive public comments on proposed rules governing high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF), and they are asking the agency for an extension.
But by all accounts, there will be no changes to the 30-day public comment period, which begins Wednesday and is scheduled to conclude at 5 p.m. EST on Jan. 11.
In a letter Monday to DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens, New York State Assemblymen Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) and Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) said the public comment period should be at least 60 days.
“We continue to believe that the regulations should not be issued until after a thorough, professional health impact assessment is completed,” the assemblymen wrote. “We urge the Department to withdraw the regulations until that process is complete.”
In September, Martens asked Department of Health (DOH) Commissioner Nirav Shah to conduct a health impact analysis of HVHF before the DEC wraps up a supplemental generic environmental impact statement on the practice (see Shale Daily, Sept. 24). The DEC filed for a 90-day extension when it became obvious that the health experts contracted by Shah would not complete their work before a Nov. 29 deadline (see Shale Daily, Nov. 29).
“If the [DEC] opts to pursue the proposed regulations, additional steps need to be taken to provide the public with greater opportunity for meaningful involvement,” Gottfried, Sweeney and Lavine said. “The current comment period — the mere minimum required by law — is insufficient given the sheer size of the regulations, the numerous revisions and the complexity of the issues.
“The [DEC] is not restricted from providing additional time for comment, and the public should not receive less time than they need to review substantial changes simply because an agency waited until the last minute to seek a 90-day extension of the rulemaking.”
Sweeney, a longtime foe of fracking (see Shale Daily, March 29; Dec. 2, 2010), is chairman of the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee. Meanwhile, Gottfried chairs the Assembly’s Health Committee and Lavine is chairman of the Administrative Regulations Review Committee.
The lawmakers also took issue with the 90 pages of documents the DEC released in late November outlining its proposals (see Shale Daily, Dec. 3). They include a ban on drilling through HVHF within the New York City and Syracuse watersheds, an adjacent 4,000-foot buffer zone, and within 500 feet of private drinking water wells.
“The shortness of the comment period is compounded by the difficulty of unraveling the proposed revisions,” the lawmakers said. “The originally proposed regulatory text is no longer available on the website and neither is a detailed description of the proposed revisions. Many of the revisions receive either cursory or no mention in the assessment of public comment and other regulatory analyses. Efforts to decipher the revisions are also hampered by changes in format.”
But DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis told NGI’s Shale Daily on Tuesday that the public comment period remains 30 days and will conclude on Jan. 11.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.
“We’re encouraged that this is moving forward, that the comment period will begin and that over the next two or three months we may finally have a resolution,” Jim Smith, spokesman for the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York, told NGI’s Shale Daily on Tuesday.
Smith said he wasn’t surprised by the lawmakers’ pressing Martens for a longer public comment period. “They’ve worked very hard to slow the review to a pace that’s even slower than it has been,” he said. “We’ve been waiting almost four and a half years. To suggest another 30 days on top of this doesn’t seem reasonable to us.”
A series of delays in the environmental review has kept a moratorium on HVHF in place since 2008 (see Daily GPI, July 28, 2008).
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