Deadline on Fracking Extended, Public Review “Suppressed”


The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has filed for a 90-day extension on a Nov. 29 regulatory deadline which means that a final decision on shale-gas drilling in New York State might not come until the end of February 2013.

The DEC says it was required by law to issue a new set of rules for hydrofracking in New York in order to get the extension. The DEC also opened a new public comment period on the rules starting Dec. 12 to Jan 11. The new rules– a 90-page document — seem somewhat more restrictive for the industry when it comes to safety, according a review by the Poughkeepsie Journal.

The Westchester-based environmental group Riverkeeper, which opposes high-volume hydrofracking in New York, said that by filing the revised set of fracking regulations, public participation in the rulemaking process will be “suppressed,” given that the minimum 30-day comment period will occur over the holidays.

Kate Hudson, watershed program director at Riverkeeper said: “What needs to be made clear is what DEC did …. was to file a completely revised set of fracking regulations without the benefit of vital health and environmental impact information.

About 85% of Westchester residents get their drinking water  from New York City’s supply which, in turn, relies on the two West-of-Hudson  water systems  in the Catskills and Delaware basin that sit on top of part of the Marcellus Shale where drilling has been proposed.

“Fracking” involves injecting toxic chemicals, sand, and millions of gallons of water under high pressure directly into shale formations. When these elements, along with any natural gas, are extracted, some toxic chemicals may leak to the surface or pollute water underground. Whether any toxic discharges will flow into Westchester’s and/or New York City’s drinking water supply is uncertain.

In mid-November, the DEC asked the head of the state health department, Dr. Nirav Shah, to choose several outside public health experts to assist in its internal review of the health impacts of hydrofracking. (See our previous coverage.)

The Associated Press  (AP) recently identified those experts, all of whom are prominent academics in the environmental health field. They are: Lynn Goldman, Richard Jackson, and John Adgate. Goldman is dean of George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services. Jackson chairs of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of California Los Angeles School of Public Health. Adgate chairs the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the University of Colorado School of Public Health.

The Cuomo administration has kept the DEC’s health review under wraps, despite requests by the public health community and environmental groups for full disclosure of the health review process and findings.

According to the DEC, a final decision on hydrofracking won’t come until the health review is completed and the DEC , through its environmental impact statement, has determined whether hydrofracking can be done safely.

In an interview about the health review with the Associated Press, expert Lynn Goldman said, “What I think this exercise is about is can New York do this in a way that is safe — understanding that safety has to be in the context of ‘in comparison to what?’ We’re continuing to demand a lot of energy in our economy. There’s no such thing as an absolutely safe way of generating energy at this point.”

Goldman also noted, “We know that emissions from burning coal cause tremendous damage to health. A decision not to frack is a decision to use more coal.”

According to the Associated Press, the experts’ health review will be completed this week.

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