Decision about hydrofracking in state may rest on DEC study

AP Photo/Mike Groll
By Karen Frantz

The state Department of Environmental Conservation may miss a critical deadline for finalizing hydraulic fracturing regulations later this month as it waits for a health review of the drilling method to be completed.

DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens said at a state Senate budget hearing Monday that a state Department of Health review of a DEC environmental impact study may be weeks away from being finished.

“We are not on any particular timetable,” Martens said, saying he is waiting for the report from DOH Commissioner Nirav Shah.

“We could have it in a few weeks and then decide where we go from there.”

But if proposed hydrofracking regulations are not finalized by the Feb. 27 deadline, they will expire, requiring the DEC to allow another round of public commenting.

That could delay the DEC and Gov. Andrew Cuomo in determining whether to allow hydrofracking in the state for months as proponents of drilling await a final decision.

There has been a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in New York since 2008 while the DEC has been drafting regulations and conducting the environmental impact study. The DEC asked the Health Department to review its impact study as some clamored for an outside analysis.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a controversial drilling method in which a mix of water, sand and chemicals are blasted into underground shale rock formations in order to extract natural gas.

Proponents argue allowing fracking in the state will be an economic boon and spur job growth, but opponents contend that drilling could contaminate New York City’s water supply and have other deleterious environmental impacts.

Some anti-fracking activists attended Monday’s hearing and repeatedly interrupted Marten’s testimony with hisses and groans and cheered senators’ pointed remarks.

“I think you’ve been doing a great job, except for the issue of hydrofracking,” said Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) at the hearing, as he was met with applause.

Avella, who is on the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, said he was concerned the DOH’s review would not be able to point out issues related to public health that the DEC impact study missed.

“If they think we missed things, I’m sure they’ll be included in Dr. Shah’s report,” Martens responded.

But Avella challenged Martens, suggesting Shah indicated there would not be an opportunity to address issues the DEC impact study may have missed in its review.

“It seems that DEC is punting back to Health, and Health is punting back to DEC,” Avella said.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4548.

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