Just days before a 30-day public comment period in New York on proposed rules governing high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) expires, three influential state lawmakers are calling for the comment period to be suspended, citing a lost state report on the practice that surfaced earlier this month.
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 on Tuesday, 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 (see Shale Daily, Jan. 7). The eight-page report, which was never released to the public, concluded that HVHF could be performed safely with appropriate regulation.
“We are concerned that this report reflects the thinking of people who are helping shape the administration’s decision on fracking and suggests that conclusions have been made before the research is conducted,” the lawmakers said. “If the public is to provide meaningful comment on the proposed regulations, the public should be able to see the studies and analysis that were produced at public expense.”
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 Shale Daily, Jan. 2; Dec. 12, 2012).
Sweeney, a longtime foe of fracking (see Shale Daily, March 29, 2012; Dec. 2, 2010), is chairman of the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee. Gottfried chairs the Assembly’s Health Committee and Lavine is chair of the Administrative Regulations Review Committee.
The trio said they plan to hold public hearing on the matter in the Albany statehouse on Thursday, and they invited DEC and DOH officials to attend. Citing the state Freedom of Information law, requests were made to officials to “bring all books, papers and items…concerning the potential health impacts of natural gas drilling, including HVHF.” It was unclear if DEC officials plan to attend.
“Members of IOGA [Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York] have waited four and a half years, and landowners have waited just as long, for a decision on this,” IOGA spokesman Jim Smith told NGI’s Shale Daily on Wednesday. “As we continue to wait, we continue to lose business to other states. There is not a rational reason for this process to be delayed any further.”
Asked if IOGA thought Cuomo or Martens would suspend the process, Smith said the organization “will hold them to their word that there would be a decision based on science, and that at the end of February we would be at the decision point. We’re expecting progress after that date.”
In September, Martens asked Shah to conduct a health impact analysis of HVHF before the DEC wraps up a supplemental generic environmental impact statement on the practice (see Shale Daily, Sept. 24, 2012). The DEC filed for a 90-day extension when it became obvious that the health experts contracted by Shah would not complete their work before a Nov. 29 deadline (see Shale Daily, Nov. 29, 2012).
Attorneys with knowledge of New York’s regulatory and business climates have predicted the state will move forward with permitting HVHF this year, although IOGA and environmental groups have been less optimistic (see Shale Daily, Dec. 5, 2012; Dec. 4, 2012). A series of delays in the environmental review has kept a moratorium on HVHF in place since 2008 (see Daily GPI, July 28, 2008).
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