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The Empire

The EPA puts another piece in play in the ongoing battle over hydrofracking in NY

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Hydrofracking advocates, in their request for the state to slow down its environmental review of the process, have used the Environmental Protection Agency’s own review as a reason to put on the breaks. More specifically, the EPA has been saying it will look into the overall process of hydraulic fracturing to weigh in on the procedure’s environmental impacts. Advocates are hoping the results, when they come, would make the case for slowing approval for or halting the natural gas extraction process all together in New York.

Up until now, the EPA piece was just something that could happen. But today the agency announced its time frame for reviewing the whole shebang. In a press release, EPA said the initial findings and results of the study, requested by members of Congress back in 2010, will be released to the public in 2012.

Upstate New York Democratic Congressman Maurice Hinchey, who pushed for the study, applauded the EPA’s announcement earlier today, saying, “Our country is in the middle of shale gas rush, but unbiased, scientific research into hydraulic fracturing is almost non-existent. This EPA study will provide invaluable information to the public and policy makers interested in understanding the impact of hydraulic fracturing on our water resources."

Environmental groups are hoping the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation and the Governor’s office are taking note.

“This gives Speaker Silver and other people who have been calling on the state to slow the rush to drill another way of saying, but wait, we've got information coming," said Katherine Nadeau, the Water & Natural Resources Program Director for Environmental Advocates for New York. “It’s not saying we should just wait until kingdom come. It’s saying we should wait until we've got the information we need to make informed decisions.

“I’m hopeful that the Department of Environmental Conservation and Governor Cuomo will take this into account when we're evaluating our proposed program [in New York].”

DEP has been under fire from advocates for what they’re calling a rushed process of review that could see fracking permits handed out as early as next year. Recently the agency’s head said there’s no timetable for approving the process in New York State. Through a spokesperson, the agency released the following statement:

DEC has been studying high-volume hydraulic fracturing and its potential impacts for more than three years and the state’s final [Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement] SGEIS will be released next year. DEC’s permits incorporate both state and federal requirements under the state and federal Clean Water Acts. New York’s proposed regulations are the strictest in the nation. However, we always welcome new information. We will review EPA’s final report when it’s issued and amend the state’s requirements if necessary.

The Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York’s executive director Brad Gill appeared to back up DEC, saying that EPA was just repeating work it and the state have already done.

“Even without having the benefit of a full review of the plan, the EPA’s approach appears to be consistent with what NY is already accomplishing with the SGEIS,” Gill said. “The EPA has studied water use in hydraulic fracturing many times and always came to the same conclusion: there have been no proven cases of groundwater contamination due to hydraulic fracturing.”

A number of elected officials have been contacted to see how they see this impacting the state’s process. Hoping to put together their reactions in a future piece.