Close of NY fracking comment period brings flood of calls for further study

Yesterday marked the close of the public comment period on NY's environmental impact study and proposed regulations for new fracking. As expected, the response to this controversial proposal was overwhelming. Although we have not yet seen an official tally, it is expected that more than 30,000 comments were submitted to the Department of Environmental Conservation. This astounding, and certainly record-breaking, number of comments confirms that this remains the highest profile environmental issue facing the state, and one about which significant concerns persist.

NRDC submitted extensive comments, which together topped 650 pages. Included in this total are the comprehensive comments prepared by our technical and scientific experts on behalf of NRDC (as well as Catskill Mountainkeeper, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Earthjustice and Riverkeeper), as well as a detailed legal and policy memo jointly submitted by those some organizations (plus the Sierra Club).

Overall, our conclusion remains that, although DEC made some real improvements since the 2009 draft proposal, serious and significant gaps remain. Individually and together, they demonstrate that DEC has more work to do and that the state is not ready to move forward with new fracking.

My previous blogs (here and here) detail some of our most significant concerns, including:

  • No plan for toxic wastewater.
  • Failure to properly evaluate cumulative impacts to air, water, habitat and other resources.
  • Failure to include mitigation measures in legally enforceable regulations.
  • Lack of analysis of impacts from development of shales besides the Marcellus, like the Utica that industry has its sights set on next.
  • Failure to require that toxic wastes be treated as hazardous.
  • No meaningful consideration of health impacts.
  • Consideration only of potential positive economic impacts while ignoring likely negative impacts.
  • Inadequate protections for critical watersheds and drinking water supplies.
  • Inadequate protections for other critical resources, including floodplains, forests, state lands and habitats.
  • Failure to consider alternatives to full-blown gas development.

Also submitting detailed comments that point out starkly the need for further study were a slew of government agencies and elected officials, including: the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, Congressman Maurice Hinchey, and many, many more (including numerous key NYS and NYC legislators whose comments were not yet available on-line at the time of this posting).

The message could not be more clear. Governor Cuomo must direct his DEC to slow down and take the time to do this right. That means giving DEC as long as it needs to fully and properly evaluate all the risks. And it means not proposing a plan for risky new fracking unless and until it can show that appropriate, legally binding safeguards for health and the environment can be established and effectively enforced. We're still a long way from being there.