The New York Assembly's Environmental Conservation Committee this week reported out of committee legislation to suspend until June 1, 2012 the issuance of new permits to drill that use hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) to extract natural gas or oil.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), who serves on the standing committee, said he expects the Assembly to soon consider the legislation (A7400).

The bill, introduced by Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Robert K. Sweeney, would give the state legislature more time to review a draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) on horizontal drilling and hydrofracking, which the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is expected to complete by mid-year.

"For the sake of our environment's safety and the integrity of our drinking water, I think it is appropriate and responsible for the state to take additional time to thoroughly study all the data that is available and forthcoming about hydrofracking before approving any additional permits," said Silver.

In 2008 former Gov. David Paterson directed DEC to prepare the SGEIS, which in effect placed a moratorium on drilling horizontal wells that require hydrofracking in the New York portion of the Marcellus Shale (see Daily GPI, July 28, 2008). As he was preparing to leave office last December Paterson extended until July 1 the deadline for DEC to complete the draft, but even that deadline is said not to be set in stone (see Shale Daily, April 1; Dec. 14, 2010).

Other states have considered or are considering limits to hydrofracking; Maryland legislators failed to pass a bill in April that would have frozen Marcellus Shale drilling until 2013 (see Shale Daily, April 14). The Obama administration has launched a broad review of hydrofracking, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to complete a study on the drilling procedure by the end of 2012 (see Shale Daily, April 4 and Daily GPI, Feb. 9).

The New York legislation "ensures that we do not embrace this drilling technology without examining all the risks," said Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst). "During our lifetime we have seen many environmental disasters that could have been avoided had all the facts been known before approvals were given. It's important that we in New York State get our policy on hydrofracking right, the first time."

Silver said there are "too many unknowns" about how hydrofracking could impact the environment.

"To be anything but cautious on this matter would be reckless and a threat to our environment and the health of New Yorkers," said Silver.

The Assembly committee, as well as a standing committee on health, have scheduled a public hearing on May 26 to review the potential health effects of hydrofracking techniques used in gas and oil drilling. The hearing is to be held at 9:30 a.m. ET in Albany's Legislative Office Building.

In related news a statewide poll released late Tuesday found New Yorkers divided on whether hydrofracking should be allowed. The NY1/YNN-Marist Poll, overseen by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion (MIPO), reported that 41% of 941 adults questioned April 25-29 were opposed to hydrofracking, while 38% were in favor and 21% were unsure.

"Regionally, there's no majority on either side of the ledger," the report stated. "47% of those upstate are against hydrofracking while 37% support it. 39% in New York City oppose the process while 35% favor it. However, in the suburbs of New York City, 46% are for hydrofracking while 36% are against it."

Partisan differences were found. Most Democrats (47%) and unregistered voters (46%) opposed the process, while close to half of the Republicans polled (49%), support hydrofracking.

"Many New Yorkers have yet to weigh in on this issue," said MIPO Director Lee M. Miringoff. "The question is what will happen to the public's opinion about hydrofracking as both sides make their case."