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Hydrofracking

The Empire

Focus on hydrofracking harder for NYC residents ahead of public hearings

Monday, November 14, 2011

Senator Liz Krueger, right, and Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, center, at the hearing last week. (Colby Hamilton / WNYC)

Last week's elections upstate elections were partially driven by the debate over hydrofracking. This week, the issue enters a new phase. As the Innovation Trail's Matt Richmond reports, the state's Department of Environmental Conservation begins its last round of public hearings that will guide its recommendations on the controversial gas extraction process.

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The Empire

Last night's other big winner: Opposition to hydrofracking

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Shutterstock / iznashih

Last night was a big night for Governor Andrew Cuomo, who came out looking like the person who gained the most from big wins in Westchester, Erie and Suffolk Counties. But there was another major winner in last night's elections. It happened much further down ticket, in a series of local races in Central New York.

The message--louder in some places, but consistent--from communities that would constitute ground zero in the natural gas drilling boom, were hydraulic fracturing were to come to New York, was: Drilling is unwelcome here.

In the most watched set of elections happening in Otsego County, Democratic candidates for the county legislature, who had made this year's election a kind of referendum on hydrofracking, gained two seats in the Republican-controlled body.

While anti-fracking candidates were unable to gain control of the county legislature, down ticket candidates scored significant victories as town supervisors and board members. "We Won!!!" screamed the headline on the website for Sustainable Otsego, the group backing anti-drilling candidates across the county.

Outside of the more high-profile races in Otsego, races in other nearby counties--Delaware, Steuben, Sullivan, and Tompkins Counties, in particular--local candidates also won on anti-fracking platforms.

In the town of Dryden in Tompkins County, incumbents who had supported a ban on drilling were reelected. In Sidney, over in Delaware County, a coalition of anti-fracking candidates won the open two seats on the town board and the clerk's position.

Of course, it wasn't a clean sweep. In the towns of Mamakating and Liberty in Sullivan County, pro-drilling candidates won positions as town supervisors. And as the Sustainable Otsego website points out, 15 of the seats they were hoping to win were not. But with so many candidates clearly arguing against the drilling process and winning, the message from last night is that many voters in Central New York are opposed to the process.

And the person this affects the most is Governor Andrew Cuomo. As polls have shown, opposition to hydrofracking--something the Governor is not overtly opposed to--is strongest in upstate communities. If the message in last night's elections is relatively clear, so too is its target. Whether the Governor is receptive still remains to be seen.

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The Empire

Assemblyman O'Donnell: Governor, wait for the EPA

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

As we reported last week, the EPA has announced a time frame for the release of its study on hydrofracking--something fracking opponents have been waiting for.

Now, at least one member of the New York State Assembly is asking Governor Cuomo to put the breaks on the state's own environmental review process until the EPA finishes its work. Assemblyman Dan O'Donnell of Manhattan sent the letter below to the Governor, asking "for the completion of the Congressionally-mandated review of hydraulic fracturing by the EPA before issuing permits in New York State."

The EPA's time frame--releasing draft findings sometime in 2012, with the final report due in 2014--would likely outlast the state's process, which could result in permits as soon as next year.

  (Courtesy of the Assemblyman's Facebook page)

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The Empire

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

Thursday, November 03, 2011

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.

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The Empire

Assem. Minority Leader Kolb backs hydrofracking

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Courtesy of the Minority Leader's office.

Apparently Assembly Minority Speaker Brian Kolb hadn't put down his chips in on this issue. But on his 1300 AM talk show out of Albanytoday, the Post's Fred Dicker put the controversial question to the minority leader.

"It's controversial wherever it's brought up because there's a lot of misinformation. There's a lot of fearmongering," Kolb said. Not surprisingly, then, he said he supported bringing hydrofracking to New York State.

But Kolb did discuss having the kind of buffer zones around the Finger Lakes in and near his district that is being proposed for the reservoirs that feed city's like New York.

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The Empire

Hydrofracking review on 'no firm timetable': DEC Commish Martens

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

By Karen DeWitt, New York Public Radio Capital Bureau Chief

The state’s environmental agency is putting the brakes on the process to approve hydrofracking on some private lands in New York, now that a key advisory panel will miss a November 1 deadline to issue a report.

The State’s Environmental Commissioner Joe Martens said the report from the advisory committee—made up of industry, environmental and community representatives—will not be issued next month, partly because data on costs from hydrofracking to other state agencies, like the departments of health and transportation, aren’t ready yet.

Martens said “there’s been a little bit of a change in plans” and that the panel will be meeting through January of 2012 to try to issue a report that will also contain costs to local governments , as well as state costs.

“There’s no firm timetable,” Martens said.

Martens says the data on the potential costs of hydrofracking to the state is “unlikely” to be ready in time for the governor’s budget proposal in January, and he says he “can’t predict” whether hydrofracking permits will be issued in 2012.

Commissioner Martens also said just the review of the thousands of comments that have been received during an ongoing public comment period will take months.

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The Empire

Hydrofracking deadline likely to be missed

Thursday, October 20, 2011

WNYC has this from New York Public Radio Capital Bureau Chief Karen DeWitt:

A state advisory panel on hydrofracking in New York may not meet its initial November deadline to report on potential fees to charge gas drillers and impacts of the controversial process on the state.

Rob Moore, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York and a member of the Cuomo administration's environmental department’s fracking advisory committee, said he’s been told to expect to attend meetings until the end of January, which could delay the initial November 1 timetable for the committee to report.

Moore said several other state agencies that need to provide input on how to structure potential fees for gas drillers and other impacts were not yet prepared to do so. A meeting that was planned for October 14 was cancelled.

“You have four of the five agencies involved in this that were clearly caught flat-footed,” Moore said.

Read the rest of the article here.

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WNYC News

Panel Report on Potential Fracking Fees May Be Pushed Back

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A state advisory panel on hydrofracking in New York may not meet its initial November deadline to report on potential fees to charge gas drillers and impacts of the controversial process on the state.

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The Empire

The battle over local fracking bans begins in Dryden, NY

Friday, October 14, 2011

By Matt Richmond/WSKG of Innovation Trail

Shutterstock / iznashih

There's a showdown brewing in Dryden, New York.

Back in August, the town passed a zoning ordinance that banned the practice of hydrofracking for natural gas. A month later, they were being sued by gas company Anschutz Exploration.

What happens here - who flinches, who wins - will reverberate across the rest of New York state.  And it all hinges on a simple question:

Can you, or can't you, ban drilling within your own town limits?

"Incompatible with our lifestyle"

Town officials in Dryden and across New York started preparing for gas drillingyears ago, when they began to see more and more leasing activity, says Dryden's supervisor Mary Ann Sumner.

"Somewhere in this process we realized ... that the gas industry was a heavy industrial use that is simply incompatible with our lifestyle," she says.

So Dryden attacked the issue on two fronts. First, it tried to work with the state to lessen drilling's impacts.

Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) 2303 gives the state sole power to regulate gas companies. That law, passed in the 1970s, would probably be much more contentious if it were to come to the state legislature today, says University of Albany Professor Erica Powers.

"Like many laws, that amendment to the constitution was proposed by the industry," says Powers.

Sumner says at the outset Dryden made an effort to comply with that law. They tried to collaborate with the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on Anschutz Exploration’s application to drill locally.

But town officials noticed some problems with Anschutz's application - it had ignored the presence of a stream and power transmission lines - and ended up feeling like they couldn’t trust the DEC to protect them.

So Dryden applied its second tactic: it classified drilling as "heavy industry," prohibiting it under the town's zoning law. And that triggered the lawsuit that Dryden is facing today.

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The Empire

Councilman Gennaro on draft DEC fracking rules: One step closer to possible "unprecedented contamination"

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

William Alatriste / NYC Council Flikr

New York City Councilman James Gennaro is out with a strongly worded statement on the draft guidelines for hydrofracking released today by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

“Today’s release of [DEC’s] draft regulations for hydraulic fracturing brings us one step closer, in my opinion as both an environmental public policymaker and a geologist, to the possible unprecedented contamination of New York City drinking water and other drinking water supplies throughout the State and the degradation of a large swath of our state through the irreversible industrialization of ‘hydrofracking'," Gennaro said in the statement.

He went on to criticize DEC, saying, "[T]he DEC...chose to ignore hard science and its obligation to protect the drinking water supply for nine million New Yorkers in favor of its zeal to advance hydraulic fracturing."

Gennaro called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to stop the environmental agency's process. Today the agency announced draft regulations for hydrofracking. A public comment period on the proposed rules will last until December 12, 2011. DEC is holding a series of meetings for public comment that will last from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., and 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. for each meeting:

  • Nov. 16: Dansville Middle School Auditorium, 31 Clara Barton St., Dansville, NY 14437
  • Nov. 17: The Forum Theatre, 236 Washington Street, Binghamton, NY, 13901
  • Nov. 29: Sullivan County Community College, Seelig Theatre, 112 College Rd, Loch Sheldrake, NY 12759
  • Nov. 30: Tribeca Performing Arts Center, 199 Chambers Street, New York, NY, 10007

From the DEC press release:

Once the comment period is complete, DEC will review the comments on the revised draft [Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement] and proposed regulations and prepare responses to be released with the final SGEIS and final regulations. No permits for high-volume hydraulic fracturing will be issued until the SGEIS is finalized and DEC issues the required Findings Statement.

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The Empire

Cuomo approval ratings remain high as Gillibrand, Schumer slip

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Courtesy of the Governor's office

Governor Andrew Cuomo's approval ratings continue to remain high, according to a new Siena poll, despite an overwhelming feeling among those polled feel Albany is no more transparent than it was when the Governor took office.

“After nine months in a difficult economic climate, it’s impressive that Governor Cuomo has 72 percent of voters viewing him favorably. However, even more impressive is the consistency with which voters from different regions and demographic groups view him,” said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg in a statement. “He is viewed favorably by 71 percent of voters upstate and in New York City, and by 73 percent of downstate suburban voters."

Meanwhile, both of New York's Senators have seen their approval ratings slip from recent highs. Senator Charles Schumer's approval rating is at 59 percent, down from 67 percent in November of last year. Meanwhile, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's 46 percent approval rating is down from an all-time high of 57 percent in February.

Perhaps more concerning for the junior Senator are the number of voters who say they'd prefer someone else in the job. More than a third of respondents continue to say they'd like to see Senator Gillibrand gone.

“Is the junior senator vulnerable? At this point only 37 percent of voters both view her favorably and are inclined to re-elect her while 21 percent see Gillibrand unfavorably and prefer someone else," said Greenberg. "Right now Gillibrand is ahead but she is well below 50 percent of strong supporters while a sizable percentage of New York voters currently do not know where they stand and could go either way come November 2012."

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WNYC News

Panel Begins Advising DEC on Fracking

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A new panel made up of natural gas drillers, environmentalists and government officials has begun to advise New York's Department of Environmental Conservation about the controversial natural gas drilling technique known as fracking.

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The Empire

Focus on flood recovery raises new hydrofracking concerns for for upstate Assemblyman Cahill

Thursday, September 08, 2011

This story has been updated.

Courtesy of the Assemblyman's website.

By Karen DeWitt, WXXI Capitol Bureau Chief

The news has been dominated this week by two upstate stories that strangely have dovetailed, at least in one regard.

The additional flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Lee has only made the decision to limit the time for public comment on a hydrofracking report more problematic for critics.

Assembly Energy Committee Chair Kevin Cahill says he’s disappointed with the Department of Environmental Conservation’s decision to make the public comment period on a draft final report on hydrofracking 90 days long, an increase from 60 days but still not long enough largely because of the flooding.

Cahill says many of the key regions in the Marcellus Shale were flooded first by tropical storm Irene and now the remnants of Hurricane Lee, with several of them declared federal disaster areas. He says people there will be too busy cleaning up ruined homes and businesses to focus on attending hearings or submitting opinions on the future of natural gas drilling in New York.

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The Empire

State releases fracking report, extends comment period

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

 By Karen DeWitt, WXXI Capitol Bureau Chief

The state’s environmental agency has granted an additional 30 days for public comment on hydrofracking, to 90 days, and has agreed to four public hearings, three in the Marcellus shale region and one in New York City on its draft final report on gas drilling.

The new 90 day comment period was welcomed by environmentalists, though they say they would have liked double that amount of time.

The gas drilling industry, represented by the Independent Oil and Gas Association, does not object to the longer comment period.

“90 days seems appropriate in light of the fact that there is significant new material contained in the revised report,” said spokesman Paul Larrabee.

Larrabee says the gas drillers are still studying the report and will make reserve comments on specifics until the hearings.

The report estimates that anywhere from around 33,000 to over 47,000 jobs could be created from fracking and related services.  It also says and that increased truck traffic, noise and visually unattractive well sites could be a problem.

The report says the state should also require that drilling companies consider using green chemicals first, before using the more potentially hazardous mixtures to extract the gas.

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WNYC News

New Fracking Report Examines Community Impact of Gas Drilling

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

New York state regulators is set to release a study Wednesday on the impact of natural gas drilling on communities.

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WNYC News

New State Report May Reignite Debate Over Fracking

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A new fracking study by state officials set to be revealed Wednesday could re-ignite debate about the local impact of the controversial gas drilling technique.

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WNYC News

Explainer: Did Hydrofracking Have Anything to Do With the East Coast Quake?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Many commenters wondered if there were hydrofracking operations near the Virginia-based epicenter of the 5.8-magnitude earthquake on Tuesday. The answer is "No," but possible links between natural gas drilling and seismic activity are still being explored.

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The Empire

If New York is anything, it's not unified on energy issues: NY1/YNN-Marist poll

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

In a new NY1/YNN-Marist poll about energy issues, New Yorkers show a wide-range of feelings about energy issues. No majority view on whether or not closing Indian Point was a good idea--49 percent are in favor of keeping it open--even as 51 percent of those polled think a nuclear catastrophe at the site is likely or somewhat likely to happen. Governor Cuomo has said he is in favor of closing the plant.

“After all these years, this remains a highly charged issue,” Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, Director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, said in a statement. “Governor Cuomo still has some convincing to do.”

New Yorkers are even more fractured when it comes to the issue of hydrofracking, with 37 percent of registered voters opposing hydrofracking, 33 percent supporting it, and nearly a third-- 30 percent--are unsure. According to the poll, 43 percent of Republicans support hydrofracking, which makes Senator Ball's growing opposition very interesting.

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The Empire

Ball strikes critical tone on fracking

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Senator Ball, left, with anti-fracking activist/filmaker Josh Fox. (Courtesy of the Senator's office.)

Republican State Senator Greg Ball of Patterson just sent out a notice about his tour of Pennsylvania with anti-hydrofracking activist and Oscar-nominated filmmaker Josh Fox.

“I want nothing more than to create jobs in New York. But I will not  roll out the red carpet for companies that are not willing to be held accountable,” Ball said in the statement. “I saw beautiful communities booming with economic activity. I also heard horror stories from families and farmers who’ve suffered health problems, lost livestock and seen a 90 percent devaluation of their homes and properties."

Ball's hosting a local forum on hydrofracking next week, and, with his Tea Party base of support, appears to be developing into an unlikely opponent of the natural gas drilling process.

Check out the long list of "tour findings" he says he expects to raise next week and in the debate about fracking in Albany:

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The Empire

The Landmen Cometh: The frontlines of fracking get personal as owners face aggressive pitches for land

Monday, August 15, 2011

When landmen sit down with property owners over an oil and gas lease, there can be a lot of money at stake. Some of these prospectors are more honest than others. WRVO's Emma Jacobs reports on kitchen table negotiations underway for natural gas drilling access in the region.

Ruth Tonachel says landmen were coming to her door several times a week at the height of northeast Pennsylvania's land rush. (Emma Jacobs / WRVO)

The front line of the controversial expansion of natural gas drilling isn't a meadow in Pennsylvania or New York. It's the kitchen table.

That's where landowners meet with landmen - the fleet of salesmen that gas companies use to convince landowners to sign drilling leases.

Meeting the landmen

Landmen began approaching Ruth Tonachel during the leasing rush that swept through northern Pennsylvania in 2007.

“When they first showed up in 2007,” she says, “there were people knocking on the door a couple times a week, calling constantly, stuff in the mail, phone messages, from all different companies. I mean it was hard to even sort out.”

Tonachel’s property has been in the family since 1790 so she was cautious about the idea of a drilling lease.

She speaks fondly of some of the many landmen she met with. Others did things she didn’t like, like the one she met with at a restaurant.

“He talked awhile about his background and how long he’d been in business and where he was from," she says. "Just chit chat friendly talk … I said 'well I can’t sign anything in a hurry', but he pulled out a whole set of leases all with our names on them.”

Landmen are often compared to fast-talking used car salesman. Tonachel's visitors repeatedly urged her to sign right then and there, claiming theirs was the best deal she'd ever get. When she didn’t sign, they’d come back with a different, better deal. Signing bonuses went from hundreds to thousands of dollars per acre.

But the landmen were putting more than just money on the table - some of them were serving up half-truths, misrepresentations, or outright lies.

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