Tens of thousands of new jobs would be created in the Empire State if regulators decide to allow shale development, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) reported in the final draft of its report on the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on Wednesday.

The department also issued additional documents addressing economic and community impacts, and extended the public comment period on the entire report by more than 90 days.

Responding to requests by lawmakers and groups on both sides of the fracking debate (see Shale Daily, Aug. 23), the DEC said it would accept public comments on the supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS) by mail or an online form through the close of business on Dec. 12. The move effectively creates a 97-day public comment period from Wednesday. The agency said it would not accept comments sent via fax, telephone or email.

“This will allow us to move forward with the regulations [contained in] the SGEIS and to also accommodate the requests we have received to extend the comment period,” DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis told NGI’s Shale Daily on Wednesday.

The DEC also said it would hold four public hearings on the SGEIS in counties in the Marcellus Shale region and in New York City, but has not yet announced the dates and locations. DeSantis said an announcement on the meetings would be made soon.

The core recommendations contained in the 1,537-page SGEIS were unchanged from the draft version of the report that was issued in July (see Shale Daily, July 5). Those recommendations include requiring operators to disclose the chemicals used in fracking, prohibiting drilling in all primary aquifers, the watersheds of New York City and Syracuse, and all state-owned land.

In its document addressing the economic impacts, the DEC said fracking “could provide a substantial economic boost for the state in the areas of employment, wages and tax revenue for state and local governments. However, the increased activity will also place a greater demand on government services.”

According to the DEC, about 14,000 jobs — both directly and indirectly tied to the shale gas industry — could be created in the Empire State if fracking were allowed to develop at a low level. That number jumps to about 54,000 jobs under an average development scenario. Employee earnings under the low scenario would total about $622 million, while the average scenario could net about $2.49 billion for workers.

The DEC said the state “could receive a significant increase in its indirect revenue streams,” and estimated that personal income tax receipts could increase between $24 million and $125 million, depending on the level of development. Local governments would benefit too, the agency said, pegging their gains in sales tax revenue at about $1.45 million over the 30-year life of a typical horizontal well.

On community impacts, the DEC said it hoped to help mitigate transportation issues by requiring that drillers:

In an effort to mitigate community character impacts from drilling, the DEC said it may — after consulting with local governments — decide to limit simultaneous development of well pads and wells that are in close proximity to each other. Additional measures, such as specific time frames for well site construction, could be implemented in the future.

The DEC also said it would encourage drillers to use setbacks, noise barriers and design plans that take advantage of local topography and vegetation as methods to cut down on noise impacts. The agency said it would review multi-well pads within 1,000 feet of occupied structures and places of assembly to determine what additional measures need to be taken by drillers — including noise modeling — to minimize noise.

Most visual impacts from drilling were temporary because they occurred during the construction and development of the well pad, the DEC said. But the agency said site-specific measures — such as screening, relocation, camouflage or disguise — could be implemented in consultation with the DEC.

Mike Doyle, executive director of the New York State Petroleum Council, a division of the American Petroleum Institute, said the industry was looking forward to addressing the DEC during the comment period about the agency’s concern over community impacts from fracking.

“The DEC acknowledges that natural gas can be developed safely and responsibly,” Doyle said Wednesday. “And New York’s ability to create thousands of American jobs and billions of dollars in government revenue rests on finding an effective path forward.”

The Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York (IOGA) also said it would comment during the DEC’s hearings.

“[DEC] Commissioner [Joseph] Martens has demonstrated his willingness to provide opportunities for serious dialogue on this important energy and environmental matter,” IOGA Executive Director Brad Gill said Wednesday. “We know that New Yorkers are open-minded about the benefits that natural gas exploration can bring to the state. As an industry we remain committed to practices that have resulted in a long-term record of safety and environmental stewardship.”

The DEC delayed the release of the report from Aug. 31 because the agency was busy assisting with cleanup activities from Hurricane Irene (see Shale Daily, Sept. 1).

Estimates put potential natural gas reserves in New York’s portion of the Marcellus Basin behind those of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where drilling and production have been flourishing over the last several years.

The SGEIS is to provide the framework for DEC’s high-volume fracking permit process. In July 2008 then-Gov. David Paterson ordered the DEC to complete the SGEIS, which effectively placed a moratorium on drilling horizontal wells in the New York portion of the Marcellus Shale (see Daily GPI, July 28, 2008). Paterson requested the SGEIS because the original GEIS 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 (see Shale Daily, Dec. 14, 2010).