The chief of New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) said Thursday he was considering whether to extend a 60-day comment period on DEC’s hydraulic fracturing (fracking) report, which was issued in July.

DEC last month issued recommendations on fracking, which among other things would require operators to disclose chemicals used and prohibit drilling in all primary aquifers, watersheds of New York City and Syracuse, and all state-owned land (see Shale Daily, July 5). A 60-day public comment period then was launched, but some groups, including some lawmakers, have called for an extension to 180 days.

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said he wasn’t “shutting the door” on whether to extend the comment period. “I’m reviewing all of their comments and we’ll make a decision on that at the end of the month,” Martens said. He spoke after the first meeting of DEC’s High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel, which met behind closed doors.

Among other things, the panel has begun work on a timeline to develop regulations that would ensure that state regulators, including the DEC, have enough resources to properly oversee future drilling activities. Martens said the panel’s initial recommendations are expected by early November. At the top of the list is DEC staffing requirements. The department has cut more than 859 full-time jobs in the past three years.

“We hope to have a series of recommendations from them in the form of a report, probably in two stages,” Martens said. “We’re asking them to look at the state issues first and the local issues next because the department has to put together a budget and submit it to the governor’s office in December.

“So we’re going to try and complete the assessment of state agency needs by early November so that we can take their recommendations, consider them and hopefully fold our own recommendations into our budget request.”

Panel members plan to share information in the interim with the next meeting slated in early September. Initial panel members, composed of energy industry representatives, lawmakers, regulators and environmentalists, were appointed in July when the draft recommendations were issued. Five additional people were named Thursday, including Brad Gill, who is executive director of the New York Independent Oil & Gas Association. Also serving on the panel will be Chemung County Executive Thomas Santulli, Robert Williams of the Joint Landowners Coalition, Jeff Williams of the New York Farm Bureau and Town of Smyrna Supervisor James Bays.