The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has released 90 pages of documents detailing proposed regulations governing high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF), and it has set the dates for a 30-day public comment period on the proposed rules. The action appeared to signal a long-awaited break in the state’s drilling moratorium.

The DEC said it will accept public comments on the draft regulations beginning Dec. 12 and ending at 5 p.m. on Jan. 11, 2013.

“If DEC decides that hydraulic fracturing cannot be safely done in New York, these regulations will not have any practical effect and the process will not go forward,” the agency said. “If DEC decides that the process can be done safely, these regulations would be adjusted in accordance with the health and safety requirements and issues addressed in the supplemental generic environmental impact statement [SGEIS].”

The proposed changes call for revising terminology in three areas of state law, also known as New York Codes, Rules and Regulations (NYCRR).

The first proposed changes, outlined in a two-page document, involve NYCRR Parts 52 and 190, which address the use of state lands, including those administered by the state Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources.

A second series of proposed changes, outlined in a 59-page document, would amend NYCRR Parts 550 through 556 and 560. Specifically, these changes involve promulgation and enforcement of rules and regulations; reports and financial security; permits to drill, deepen, plug back or convert wells; well spacing; drilling practices and reports; plugging and abandonment; operating practices, and operations associated with HVHF.

The DEC also proposed changes to NYCRR Parts 750.1 and 750.3. In a 29-page document, the agency outlines how an operator would obtain a state pollutant discharge elimination system (SPDES) permit for HVHF activities.

Jim Smith, spokesman for the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York (IOGA), told NGI’s Shale Daily that the organization was carefully reviewing the DEC’s proposals.

“We’re poring through it,” Smith said Friday. “We’re trying to determine how our members will react. Time is going to tell whether these are reasonable regulations. The proof will be if the operators return to New York. They’re leaving for Pennsylvania and Ohio. Only time will tell if they consider New York open for business.”

Smith said one of the major issues being studied are setback requirements.

“We’re concerned that the setback requirements that we had asked the DEC to address in the last draft have not been considered,” Smith said. “In other words, we think the setback requirements are too stringent. There’s no real environmental benefit to having such a distance. We think that the setbacks are going to make it more of a patchwork and make it hard to set up the spacing units.”

John Holko, president of Lenape Resources Inc., told NGI’s Shale Daily on Friday that although he hadn’t yet read the DEC’s proposals, “I’m hopeful that this idea of a 90-day extension is better than starting from scratch. I’ll reserve my judgment. [But] my big question is: ‘Why do we need any more time?’ Let’s just move on with this, everybody else has.”

Environmental groups opposed to fracking also took aim at the proposed changes.

“By issuing revised rules before the [DEC] and [state Department of ] Health, and their outside experts, have had the chance to undertake a comprehensive review of fracking’s consequences, [Gov. Andrew Cuomo] and his staff are signaling that it is not important to understand the public health impacts from fracking,” the New York Water Rangers said Thursday. “But this knowledge is critical, and must be used to shape regulations and ultimately determine whether or not to permit fracking in New York State.”

On Thursday the DEC filed for a 90-day extension to finalize rules governing HVHF, to give Department of Health Commissioner Nirav Shah more time to complete a health analysis of the practice (see Shale Daily, Nov. 29).

A series of delays in the environmental review has kept the moratorium in place since 2008 (see Daily GPI,July 28, 2008).