New York Gov. David A. Paterson signed into law Wednesday a measure that extends the state’s uniform well spacing system to include additional wells and drilling activity, including horizontal well drilling, which he said would lead to greater efficiency in processing well permits, notably aimed at drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation.

“Natural gas exploration has the potential to increase domestic supplies of natural gas, create jobs, expand the tax base and benefit the upstate economy. My administration is committed to working with the public and local governments to ensure that if the drilling goes forward, it takes place in the most environmentally responsible way possible. This new law will ensure greater efficiency in the processing of requests to permit oil and gas wells, while maintaining environmental and public health safeguards,” Paterson said.

The state’s Environmental Conservation Law previously established “spacing units” and “set back” requirements only for some types of drilling activity that did not include horizontal drilling. The bill also adds requirements about how wells may be located within spacing units.

There had been some opposition, particularly to the water requirements necessary for horizontal drilling into the shale field. “Let it be clear: DEC [the New York Department of Environmental Conservation] will be vigilant in ensuring environmental safeguards. Water protection will be a top priority,” said DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis.

The governor’s office noted the heightened public attention around drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation, situated primarily in New York’s Southern Tier and the Catskills. To date, three drilling applications have been received by DEC for gas wells in Chenango, Tioga and Chemung counties.

The governor has directed DEC to prepare an updated generic environmental impact statement under the State Environmental Quality Review Act to ensure that all environmental impacts from drilling are addressed. The update will examine potential impacts from new horizontal drilling techniques, including potential impacts to groundwater, surface water, wetlands, air quality, aesthetics, noise, traffic and community character, as well as cumulative impacts. The update will occur as part of a public process that ensures that concerns raised by residents who could be affected by drilling activities are heard and considered.

In addition, DEC is reviewing a variety of other areas, including staff resources, existing regulations, jurisdiction over water withdrawals, permit application fees and procedures, and legal and regulatory compliance, that could be implicated by increased drilling activity. Because drilling activity impacts local governments as well, DEC will also be looking at ways to enhance the role of local governments in the regulatory process and compliance.

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