"Fracking Express" Racing Down Fast-Track in NYS

Despite repeated requests from residents, environmental groups and local officials to slow down the environmental review and rule-making processes related to the state’s proposal for high-volume hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in upstate New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”) today rejected that path.

The DEC issued proposed rules for regulating industrial gas drilling throughout the state’s portion of the Marcellus Shale even before it has completed the legally required environmental review process on which future regulations are supposed to be based.

Under today’s proposal, comments on the highly technical rulemaking draft are due on December 12th - the same day as the deadline for public comments on the 1500 page draft environmental impact study. 

But combining the environmental review process and the rule-making process for fracking undercuts the spirit and intent of the state’s landmark environmental review statute.  Cuomo Administration officials understand the practical impact of this expedited schedule.   But they have chosen to proceed nevertheless.

The premature release of the rule-making proposal also runs counter to the DEC’s own previously expressed plans. In July of this year, DEC released a preliminary draft of the revised environmental review in which it stated that the Department would revise regulations only after the environmental review process was complete, correctly concluding that “(f)ollowing the completion of the SGEIS, the Department would be in a position to rationally determine what additional measures or procedures should become fixed principles that would supplement and improve the Department’s existing regulatory framework."

Turning to the merits, the DEC’s new rulemaking proposal contains the same fundamental gaps and flaws as the draft environmental impact statement itself.  For example, it contains only partial safeguards for public drinking water supplies, inadequate protections for the disposal of fracking-related hazardous wastes, and no effective mechanisms to shield communities from the impacts of industrialized landscapes.

New York City Council Environmental Protection Chairman, Jim Gennaro, a long-time champion of drinking water protection, released a statement today in which he warned that today’s draft regulations “bring us one step closer, in my opinion as both an environmental public policymaker and a geologist, to the possible unprecedented contamination of New York City drinking water and other drinking water supplies around the state ….”

The issue of fracking is the most significant environmental challenge facing New York State in recent memory.  The environmental impact study reports that as many as 62,000 wells could be drilled in New York State in the first 30 years of fracking operations. Such a massive industrialization of the state’s rural communities would be unprecedented, and would likely be accompanied by significant adverse impacts to state water resources, declines in air quality and the transformation of rural landscapes. 

In their efforts to fast-track the rule-making process for fracking, New York State officials have picked exactly the wrong issue on which to cut corners.