Friday, July 1, 2011

Martens; Hydrofracking can be done safely

Martens: Hydrofracking can be done safely

2:35 PM, Jul. 1, 2011 |

Written by

Jon Campbell

ALBANY -- The state's top environmental regulator said today he's confident that natural resources can be safely extracted from New York's gas-rich shale formations, a major boost for industry and landowner groups that have intensely lobbied the issue for the better part of three years.

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens said he's convinced the much-debated technique of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas will be practiced safely and effectively -- so long as the proper safeguards are in place.

Martens, at a news conference, outlined a number of recommendations his department will make as part of a 900-page draft report meant to mitigate the environmental impacts of high-volume hydrofracking, a newer technology using a mix of water and chemicals to break shale and unlock gas.

"I believe it can be done safely," said Martens, a former open-space advocate who was appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this year. "With all of the precautions that we have built in to the process, I believe it can be done safely."

The full draft is due to Cuomo's office today and will be available online for the public on July 8, according to the DEC. Martens said he has not presented it to Cuomo yet, and the governor hasn't commented on the DEC's summary of recommendations so far.

The DEC yesterday summarized a number of major, sweeping changes to its much-critiqued 2009 draft review of hydrofracking.

Among the department's new recommendations is a formal ban of high-volume hydrofracking in the Syracuse and New York City Watersheds as well as all state-owned land. Gas wells would also be kept at least 500 feet away from the primary aquifers, which provide drinking water to most of the state's urban centers.

The DEC's latest recommendations would still allow for fracking on most private lands within the Marcellus Shale formation, including land owned by counties and municipalities.

But high-volume hydrofracking in New York is still on hold until the DEC issues a final version of its environmental review. The department still has to make another round of revisions after the public comment period is expected to end in October, a process that likely will take several months.

Martens said he expects the final review to be completed near the end of the year, but said it was "highly unlikely" any permits would be granted before 2012.

"It's impossible to predict," Martens said. "It depends, in part, on how many comments we get."

The state's initial 2009 draft attracted 13,000 comments.

Both industry and environmental groups said they're going to wait for the full draft to be released before offering any substantive comments.

"Of course, we're waiting on the details," said Katherine Nadeau, a project manager for Environmental Advocates of New York. "This is a release about a 900-page document. But from what the department has said, there are a couple of gigantic holes that need to be filled, but there are a couple of things to be happy about, too."

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