Bright Future for Fracking in New York State?

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. New York's Department of Environmental Conservation has recommended that the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing be lifted outside of state-owned land, the NYC and Syracuse watersheds and within 500 feet of primary acquifers statewide. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, David Gahl, policy director of Environmental Advocates of New York, discussed the recommendation and the ongoing fracking controversy.

What it means for fracking

At this point, the proposal to lift a moratorium on hydrofracking is just that: a proposal. David Gahl said he wanted to be very clear on this point. Nothing has happened yet, and nothing will happen for a while. The first hurdle is a sixty-day public comment period, but that won't start until sometime in August, pushing the timeline for this debate into 2012.

There are going to be no permits issued in New York State until the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) finishes its environmental impact review, which probably won't be finished until next year.

Gahl said he wanted to see a commitment to updating the state's regulatory framework, as well as sound reasoning behind the state's guidelines for how far fracking operations need to be from water sources in order to be considered safe. The DEC seems to be saying that 500 feet is a safe distance, but how did they come up with that number?

We need to understand exactly what their rationale was, why they believe that's protective. Should it be 1,000 feet? 2,000? Those are the kinds of questions we're going to face over the next couple weeks as we dig deeper into this thing.

Past mistakes, future considerations

Gahl said that one of the flaws of the first fracking allowance was that the state really didn't take into consideration the cumulative impacts of siting all of these different wells every year. The DEC is contemplating 2,000 wells per year as a reasonable amount over the next few years, but Gahl said that number would come under scrutiny during the review period.

Also needing review will be the DEC's staffing situation. Union leaders have claimed that there aren't even enough employees to adequately enforce regulations on all the potential new sites that would spring up as a result of relaxing the moratorium.

As the state moves in this direction, the DEC is going to have to re-calibrate how it deploys its people, but also definitely need more staff. They'll need more inspectors, more cops on the ground to make sure drilling companies are complying with permit conditions and whatever regulations are put on the books. In our view, the industry has to pay for that; through permit fees and taxes, it needs to support the level of oversight that will protect New York's water resources.