New York DEC Recommends Lifting Moratorium on Hydraulic Fracturing
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation has recommended replacing New York's complete moratorium on high-volume hydraulic fracturing with regulations that would prohibit the process in certain areas and impose several new regulations on the process in other areas. The current moratorium was put in place last year in order to give the DEC time to supplement and revise its 2009 draft of a Generic Environmental Impact Statement ("GEIS") regarding the use of hydraulic fracturing in shale gas development.
The 2009 GEIS had recommended allowing hydraulic fracturing throughout New York, but many officials and citizens had expressed concern about allowing hydraulic fracturing within the watersheds that supply unfiltered water to New York City and Syracuse. Hydraulic fracturing has become an issue primarily because the Marcellus Shale extends into New York, and that shale formation contains significant quantities of natural gas that can only be recovered through the use of hydraulic fracturing.
The DEC's new, July 2011 draft GEIS recommends regulations that would
- ban hydraulic fracturing in the watersheds supplying New York City and Syracuse, and within 4000 feet of those watersheds
- ban drilling within primary aquifers
- ban surface drilling within state-owned parks and other lands
- ban surface drilling within any 100-year flood plan
- place a moratorium on drilling within 2000 feet of any public drinking water supply well until regulators can evaluate three years of experience elsewhere with hydraulic fracturing
- require disclosure of all fracking water additives to regulators, and provide for public disclosure of all additives that do not constitute trade secrets, and
- require an intermediate well casing (well pipe) that would be placed between the outer "surface casing" and the inner "production casing" in order to provide additional protection against migration of gas at the well itself.
The DEC's recommendations also include measures for storm water control, regulation of water withdrawals, protection of air quality at drilling sites, and for the handling of "flowback," the water recovered after a hydraulic fracturing operation is completed.
DEC officials state that they believe their recommendations provide an appropriate balance between environmental concerns and the potential benefits of hydraulic fracturing, which include jobs and a decreased dependence on foreign sources of energy. The DEC estimates that the restrictions it recommends would result in high volume hydraulic fracturing being allowed in about 80 percent of the portion of New York into which the Marcellus Shale extends.
The DEC made various documents available on July 1, 2011, including an Executive Summary of the revised draft GEIS. The full revised draft of the GEIS was made available yesterday. The documents now available include: a time line regarding the GEIS, a fact sheet regarding what DEC believes it has learned from Pennsylvania's experiences with hydraulic fracturing, a press release regarding the DEC's recommendations, a list of the members of a new Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel, a PowerPoint presentation from DEC's July 1, 2011 press conference, a simple diagram showing how an intermediate casing would help protect ground water, and the full draft GEIS, which can be download in its entirety or in portions from a web page that allows downloads by individual sections of the GEIS. A video of the DEC's July 1, 2011 press conference regarding its recommendations also is available.
DEC plans to supplement its new GEIS next month with a section discussing socioeconomic and community effects of hydraulic fracturing. The DEC then will begin a 60-day public comment period on the GEIS.
Governor Paterson imposed the current moratorium last year in his Executive Order No. 41, in which he also ordered the DEC to revise its 2009 draft GEIS regarding shale gas development. DEC prepared the 2009 draft GEIS in order to address the potential for natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, an activity that was not contemplated at the time the DEC prepared a 1992 GEIS relating to oil and gas drilling.
Paterson imposed the moratorium at the same time that he vetoed a bill that would have banned high volume hydraulic fracturing. The moratorium applies to fracturing operations using large volumes of fracturing fluid, such as the fracturing operations typically employed with horizontal wells, but does not apply to hydraulic fracturing that uses relatively low volumes of fracturing fluid, such as operations to hydraulically fracture vertical wells. Governor Cuomo continued the moratorium after he took office.