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New York Asks Firm to Analyze Fracking Impact, Again

Responding to complaints that its findings were biased in favor of drilling, a consulting firm that studied the socioeconomic impact of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in New York has been asked to go back and do more research.

Emily DeSantis, spokeswoman for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), told NGI's Shale Daily that DEC Commissioner Joe Martens asked researchers with Ecology and Environment Inc. (E&E) to do a quantitative analysis of the potential costs posed by fracking.

Lancaster, NY-based E&E analyzed and suggested mitigation measures for the visual, noise, transportation and community character impacts of fracking for the DEC, which incorporated the findings into its 1,500-page revised supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS) released in September (see Shale Daily, Sept. 29; Sept. 8). The SGEIS is to provide the framework for DEC's fracking permit process.

"The commissioner is asking them to dig a little deeper," DeSantis said Wednesday. "[E&E] has looked at these things already, but he said we have received comments from the public saying they would like more information in certain areas and to expand upon some areas that were in the study."

Martens asked E&E to go back to the drawing board after Tuesday's meeting of the High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel (HVHF).

"E&E was just never asked to do a quantitative analysis of the negative impacts," Robert Moore, executive director of Environmental Advocates and an HVHF panelist, told NGI's Shale Daily on Wednesday. "But they sure were asked to do a quantitative analysis of the happy stuff. It's almost like they wanted to bias it in favor of drilling. Usually when you only want to look at one side of the equation, it's called a bias. That's what the DEC did."

Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York (IOGA), told NGI's Shale Daily that the organization has told the DEC that E&E should also study the negative impacts the state's de facto moratorium on fracking has had.

"[E&E] should also analyze the lost opportunities and unrealized positive impacts since the state's moratorium went into effect in 2008," Gill said Wednesday, adding that the Southern Tier has "lost sales, income and property tax revenue, [suffered] outward job migration and jobs lost to other states. [They should determine] how the higher cost of fuel has impacted business growth in the state and how many foreclosures could have been avoided."

Gill also cited a recent study by IHS Global Insight, which found shale gas production supported more than 600,000 jobs in 2010 and predicted it could support nearly 870,000 jobs by 2015 (see Shale Daily, Dec. 7).

"New York must be part of this growth," Gill said.

According to several media reports, E&E was paid $233,000 for its work on the SGEIS. It was unclear if the firm would be paid more money for the additional research. "I have to assume the DEC is paying them more money because, as E&E stated, this was not part of the original scope of work that DEC asked them to do," said Moore. "It's not like E&E failed to do an analysis or didn't do a very good analysis. The Cuomo administration simply didn't ask them to look at what the negative economic consequences associated with fracking were. It was just an act of negligence."

Others consulting firms that contributed to the revised SGEIS were Alpha Environmental, ICF International, NTC and URS Corp.

Earlier this month the DEC decided to extend the public comment period until Jan. 11 on its proposal to regulate fracking (see Shale Daily, Dec. 1). The DEC will then spend some time, possibly several months, compiling the final version of the SGEIS. "There is no firm deadline at this point [for E&E to submit their additional findings] but it would be included in the final SGEIS," DeSantis said.

That didn't sit well with Moore.

"It's a little surprising that [the DEC] is having them do it before the end of the public comment period," he said. "This is a document that is really the whole justification for moving ahead with gas drilling. The fact that the DEC is preparing this analysis -- apparently without public comment and after not bothering to put it out for public comment for the first go around -- is a little distressing."

In July 2008 then-Gov. David Paterson ordered the DEC to complete the SGEIS. Paterson requested the SGEIS because the original impact statement was completed in 1992, before technological changes in shale development. In the closing days of his term Paterson extended the SGEIS deadline until July 1, 2011 (see Shale Daily, Dec. 14, 2010).

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