Just before a 30-day public comment period in New York on proposed rules governing high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) was set to expire on Friday, three influential state lawmakers called for the comment period to be suspended, citing a lost state report on the practice that surfaced earlier this month. They also quickly convened a public hearing on the matter on Thursday and heard testimony from fracking supporters and opponents.

New York Democratic Assemblymen Richard Gottfried (Manhattan), Robert Sweeney (Lindenhurst) and Charles Lavine (Glen Cove), sent letters to Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joseph Martens and Department of Health (DOH) Commissioner Nirav Shah, urging them to suspend the public comment period. Reports said Gov. Andrew Cuomo was contacted as well.

The lawmakers said they were alarmed by a draft assessment of HVHF conducted by the DOH in early 2012. The eight-page report, which was never released to the public, concluded that HVHF could be performed safely with appropriate regulation.

The three lawmakers had sent a letter to Martens on Dec. 10, urging him to extend the 30-day public comment period to at least 60 days. In a separate letter, another 37 lawmakers urged Cuomo to unilaterally extend the public comment period at least another 60 days, for a total of at least 90 days (see NGI, Jan. 7; Dec. 17, 2012).

The trio invited DEC officials to attend Thursday’s hearing, but they declined. DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis told NGI the agency had already participated in three Assembly hearings on HVHF, but would “gladly consider Assembly members’ comments submitted at the hearing in our continuing review of this issue.”

Inge Grafe-Kieklak, a landowner from Sullivan County, NY, accused the lawmakers of being obstructionists. “How can you sit here and have the audacity to ask for more delays on gas drilling?” she asked. “You have a proven business model [in Pennsylvania]. [HVHF] can be done safely, and will not cost the state and its taxpayers any subsidies. Yet we still sit and continue to do nothing.”

Scott Kurkoski, an attorney with the Binghamton, NY, law offices of Levene Gouldin & Thompson LLP, spoke on behalf of the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York Inc. “We need to examine all of the different energy sources,” he said. “We cannot sit here in a hearing all day long and talk about the faults of one particular energy [source] by itself. Everything has to be considered together.”

On the other side of the issue, Larysa Dyrszka, a retired pediatrician, urged the Assembly to pass a bill calling for a statewide moratorium on HVHF. “The process being undertaken by this administration is unfolding in secret, without the input of the New York public and the medical community, and with the rules released before the health studies,” she said. “This leads us to conclude that the rules, like SGEIS [supplemental generic environmental impact statement], have been informed by politics and not science.”

In September, Martens asked Shah to conduct a health impact analysis of HVHF before the DEC wraps up its SGEIS on the practice (see NGI, Sept. 24, 2012). A series of delays in the environmental review has kept a moratorium on the practice in place since 2008 (see NGI, Dec. 20, 2010).

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