Ilya Marritz covers business for WNYC.
Not even a month after being confirmed in office, New York State's top environmental official raised the possibility that his agency may not issue permits for the controversial natural gas extraction technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Commissioner Joe Martens of the Department of Environmental Conservation said his agency is reviewing a host of environmental and public health concerns connecting with fracking. Many environmentalists believe fracking could contaminate water supplies.
"If we're not satisfied that we can address all those issues, then permitting may not go forward," Martens said. "But the converse is also true."
Martens said he expects his most important legacy as commissioner will be in shaping the state's approach to fracking. While most states have taken a frack-now, study-later approach, Albany has effectively put the brakes on fracking while regulators consider how — and if — it can be done safely.
In the meantime, Martens said, he has begun meeting twice a week with scientists and division heads as his agency works on a draft environmental review of fracking, due out at the end of this summer.
It is the agency's second draft review of fracking, and Martens hinted it will be different from the first one, which was completed in 2009.
Environmentalists criticized that draft for examining the impact of well development on on a case-by-case basis, rather than looking more broadly at so-called "cumulative impacts" of potentially dense development of gas wells.
"There are aspects of hydrofracking that the cumulative impacts will be looked at," Martens said. "We're trying to figure out how to do that. And if it can be done. I think there's a difference of opinion about whether it's even possible to assess the cumulative impacts not knowing how many permit applications we're gonna get or where they're gonna be."
Martens shared those thoughts with WNYC on the sidelines of a conference on the 40th anniversary of the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
(Listen to hear Martens' entire conversation on fracking with WNYC's Ilya Marritz)
(Listen to hear Enck's full response on the question of self-censorship)