Supporters of oil and natural gas exploration in New York are in disagreement with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) over just how much of the state would be open to high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF), while an environmental group has called the agency’s latest actions “meaningless.”

Last week the DEC released 90 pages of documents detailing proposed regulations governing HVHF and set the dates for a 30-day public comment period to discuss them (see Shale Daily, Dec. 3). Among the proposals:

Jim Smith, spokesman for the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York (IOGA), told NGI’s Shale Daily that the DEC’s proposals would put 80% of the Marcellus Shale in the state off limits to drilling, in contradiction to the DEC’s assertion that only 20% of the play would be lost. He said the group had not yet analyzed the potential impact on Utica Shale drilling.

“It’s a matter of operators making decisions that are in their own companies’ best interest,” Smith said Monday of the potential impact. “Whether they wish to locate here or whether they continue to work in Pennsylvania, Ohio and other states, only time is going to tell. We don’t know their plans. We don’t know specifically all of their leaseholds, whether they’re planning to leave New York or wait on New York until it’s more appealing.”

Smith added that the disclosure of chemicals used in HVHF wasn’t an issue. “We support releasing those to the DEC,” he said. “If operators want to claim proprietary [protections], that will be up to them.”

In the documents released last week, the DEC claimed IOGA was overestimating the additional cost for drilling wells in the Empire State.

“The costs of complying with the proposed revised regulations pertaining to HVHF will not differ substantially from the costs of complying with the SGEIS [supplemental generic environmental impact statement],” the agency said. “Cost projections from [IOGA]…range from $400,000 to $1,700,000 for the first well drilled on a well pad.

“[We] conducted [our] own limited cost assessment and found that, with respect to at least two categories of cost estimates, IOGA’s estimates were excessive. Unfortunately, despite repeated requests by the Department to industry to provide additional cost of compliance information, [the] industry has refused to provide the Department with any additional cost information.”

Smith said IOGA was surprised by the DEC’s comments but was “sticking by those numbers. DEC apparently disagrees with that.”

Travis Proulx, spokesman for Environmental Advocates of New York (EANY), told NGI’s Shale Daily that the DEC’s recent actions were inconsequential.

“These regulations are meaningless,” Proulx said Monday. “The DEC has said as much.”

Proulx accused the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo of reversing on the HVHF issue, after stating that the DEC would miss the Nov. 29 deadline for the proposed rulemaking (see Shale Daily, Nov. 21). Last week the DEC said it was filing for a 90-day extension and would accept public comments on the draft regulations beginning Dec. 12 and ending at 5 p.m. on Jan. 11, 2013 (see Shale Daily, Nov. 29).

“They rushed these revised regulations for inexplicable, unknown and confusing reasons,” Proulx said. “And since they’ve released these new regulations, they have again said that nothing is final. Nothing is going to be finalized until the end of the public comment period. There is conceivably going to be thousands of comments on both sides of the issue, and that’s going to take time to look through, compile and make relevant changes.

“Additionally, they’re going to have to revise the regulations based on whatever the outcomes are from the public health review. That has the potential, if done responsibly, to impact virtually every single provision.

“The bottom line is, it’s not really beneficial for anybody to get into the tit-for-tat over this because the administration has made many promises and said, essentially, that these regulations are meaningless; there’s going to be another whole set.”

The DEC said it needed the extension to give Department of Health Commissioner Nirav Shah more time to complete a health analysis of HVHF. Without the extension the time designated for completing the current process would expire and a whole new process would be required.

“Our point of view is that doing this 90-day extension is just silly, it’s pointless,” Proulx said. “They should have just let the current timeline expire, let the public health professionals finish their job, introduced a final version of revised regulations, and then permitted a meaningful debate. Instead they’re trying to rush an enormous amount of work into what is now 85 days.”