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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 13, 2011

Regs buried in blizzard of fracking papers

Environmental review in New York State — which includes time for public response — is meant to inform regulations.

Currently, the state is facing one of the most important environmental issues since it created a department to protect the environment — hydraulic fracturing. Hydrofracking frees trapped gas by injecting water mixed with chemicals and sand at high pressure into wells to fracture rock. In addition to the potential to release toxins into underground water sources, the drilling produces air and noise pollution and truck traffic that can harm the quality of living and put an end to tourism.

In September, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation released its draft regulations for high-volume hydraulic fracturing, opening a 60-day public review period that will end Dec. 12.

The draft regulations were released well before the comment period on environmental impact of hyrdrofracking has closed. In its preliminary environmental impact statement, issued on July 1, the DEC said it would release the regulations after the process was complete so that it 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.”

So much for rational determination.

The deck is stacked. Governor Andrew Cuomo campaigned on the development of the Marcellus Shale to “provide a badly needed boost to the economy of the Southern Tier.” He want so far as to state that many environmentalists agreed on the importance of producing more domestic natural gas to reduce reliance on more damaging coal.

We’re certain the estimated trillion dollars of retrievable gas untapped in the Marcellus Shale will be mined — but it behooves us to see it is done with the least harm possible.

“I’m afraid the technology is not there yet,” said Nan Stolzenburg, a local planner who has worked in many of our communities and is one of 33 nationwide to be certified as an environmental planner by the American Planning Association. On reviewing the draft regulations, she said, “I’m very concerned….There’s a lot we don’t know…These regulations are not giving our communities the protection they deserve.”

At the same time the DEC released the draft regulations, it also releasesd a proposed permit system for stormwater discharges associated with high-volume hydrofracking. That gives the public three lengthy, complex, and highly technical documents to digest and comment on simultaneously. You can read the full Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement online at www.dec.ny.gov; it’s a lot to wade through but worth the effort.

Since DEC permits for extracting gas don’t allow for the same public participation as other permits, the current comment period takes on added importance.

Four public hearings — each covering all three documents — are scheduled: on Nov. 16 in Dansville, on Nov. 17 in Binghamton, on Nov. 29 in Loch Sheldrake, and on Nov. 30 in New York City. Too far to go from here? Then pick up a pen and write. Comments may be mailed to: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, attention: SGEIS comments, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY  12233-6510.

While we exhort citizens to make their views known, we don’t have much faith the comments will make a difference. As we’ve urged in this space before, we appeal to individual municipalities to act.

While the gas companies state that municipal bans won’t hold up in court, towns, without passing a ban per se, may pass zoning laws that would make hydrofracking impossible. In the Hilltowns, Rensselaerville is considering a moratorium on drilling while a committee studies the issue. In Knox, the planning board has drafted an ordinance to ban hydrofracing based on one for the town of Ulysses in Tompkins County.

While not specifically banning the practice of hydrofracking to retrieve natural gas, which could be superceded by state law, the Knox ordinance would prohibit the use of a staging facility, which could affect the large number of trucks needed for the recovery operations, and the ordinance could prohibit a terminal for the bulk storage of natural gas.

As we run issues-based profiles on town and county candidates in the coming weeks before the Nov. 8 elections, we’re asking for their views on hydrofracking. We urge our readers to take heed. Local legislation may be the last defense against the boom-and-bust cycle that hydrofracking could spawn in our midst.

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