ALBANY — A coalition of groups on Tuesday delivered more than 12,000 comments expressing health and environmental concerns about a drilling process used to reach natural gas that’s being considered in New York.
It was a last-minute deluge of opinion submitted the day before a four-month comment period comes to a close on the state’s environmental impact review and proposed regulations.
NY Water Rangers delivered the comments to the Department of Environmental Conservation, which already had received nearly 21,000 comments as of Monday. Environmental groups also gave Gov. Andrew Cuomo nearly 500 letters and a petition with more than 20,000 signatures citing what they consider serious flaws in the oversight plan drafted by the DEC.
A pro-drilling landowners’ group submitted comments signed by 10,000 members Tuesday, and a coalition of residents, businesses, labor, and political leaders rallied in Albany and four other upstate cities to voice support for natural gas development.
Opponents say water supplies are threatened by shale gas development using hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” which stimulates well production by injecting millions of gallons of water laced with chemicals down the well bore to crack surrounding shale.
Supporters of the technique say proposed regulations will prevent environmental harm while drilling brings thousands of jobs and other economic benefits.
Even environmental groups, which once viewed shale gas extraction as an attractive energy alternative to coal or oil production, are split over whether regulations can adequately protect against damage from fracking; many of the comments submitted to DEC demand an outright ban.
A coalition of environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice, Riverkeeper, Catskill Mountainkeeper and Delaware Riverkeeper Network, said Tuesday that its review of the DEC’s 1,500-plus-page document showed the proposed permitting guidelines and regulations are so flawed that the whole document needs to be redone.
The coalition will submit more than 500 pages of comments including review and analysis by consultants with expertise in hydrology, toxicology, economics and other specialties. Among the deficiencies in the DEC document cited by the coalition are:
—No plan for disposal of millions of gallons of hazardous wastewater;
—No assessment of potential human health impacts;
—An inadequate evaluation of cumulative impacts of thousands of wells;
—Failure to quantify any negative socioeconomics impacts.
Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, urged DEC to complete work on its environmental review and regulations and allow drilling to begin in the massive Marcellus Shale formation, which extends from southern New York across parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. While gas drilling is going forward in the other states, permitting has been on hold in New York since the DEC review began in 2008.
The industry group said repeated delays in the environmental study have resulted in lost jobs, and overregulation will make it too expensive for energy companies to drill in New York.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency, which cited numerous shortcomings in the first draft of DEC’s environmental review in 2009, will submit comments on the latest draft by Wednesday’s deadline, EPA spokeswoman Bonnie Bellow said.
The EPA is conducting its own scientific study of the impact to water resources from natural gas drilling using high-volume hydraulic fracturing. The first findings of that study are expected this year.
In a “responsiveness summary” included in its final draft, DEC has to address each issue raised in comments submitted on the latest draft as well the 13,000 comments on the first draft.
DEC Commissioner Joe Martens has not set a timeline to finish the review and issue permits.
“We expect the final documents to be released in 2012,” DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said on Tuesday. “If the final documents determine high-volume hydraulic fracturing could move forward in New York, we could begin to review permit applications after the final (environmental impact statement) is released.”