New York has released its long-awaited report on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, which appears to cast doubt on whether the state will ever give a green light to the drilling completion practice, which essentially has been prohibited since 2008.
The Department of Environmental Conservation released Wednesday the final supplemental generic environmental impact statement on fracking “that identifies and examines continued major uncertainties about potential significant adverse health and environmental impacts associated with the activity,” according to a statement.
The DEC will issue its formal findings statement after a required 10-day period in accordance with the state’s Environmental Quality Review Act. In a statement, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said he would rely on the conclusions of the FSGEIS when he issues his findings statement.
New York has had a de facto moratorium on fracking since 2008 while it first began to develop rules and regulations to govern the practice, which has been used extensively just south of the state line in Pennsylvania to tap the gas-rich Marcellus shale play.
Last December, Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, made the moratorium official following the release of a state health department report that emphasized the potential problems associated with fracking.
The FSGEIS incorporated that earlier report, “which determined there is significant uncertainty about adverse health outcomes and whether mitigation measures could adequately protect public health, including impacts to air, water, soil and community character,” according to the DEC statement.
The DEC document called for “expanding many of the mitigation measures previously proposed,” in earlier versions of the SGEIS.
“As a result, more and more areas within the Marcellus Shale fairway would be off limits to high-volume hydraulic fracturing. For example, the department considered prohibiting high-volume hydraulic fracturing on private lands within the Catskill Park, increasing setbacks to residences, and natural and cultural resources, and expanding the sensitive areas that would be off limits,” the FSGEIS states.
The additional restrictions and prohibitions “would substantially increase costs to industry, which would likely negatively impact the potential economic benefits associated with high-volume hydraulic fracturing,” the document states.
“We considered materials from numerous sources, including scientific studies, academic research and public comments, and evaluated the effectiveness of potential mitigation measures to protect New York’s valuable natural resources and the health of residents,” Martens said.
The long, drawn-out process for reviewing the environmental and health effects of fracking has been a continued source of frustration for representatives of the state’s exploration-and-production industry, who have looked with envy at the level of drilling activity taking place just south of the state line.
New York’s Southern Tier counties hold an estimated 20% of the roughly 500 Tcf of gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale, plus an undetermined amount of recoverable gas and oil in the Utica Shale.
DEC first issued a draft SGEIS in September 2009, examining the potential impact from fracking, including the contamination of drinking water supplies, groundwater and surface waters; air pollution; spills; wastewater and solid waste treatment and disposal; ecological impact and adverse effects on communities.
A revised draft SGEIS, which the department issued in September 2011, proposed to: prohibit drilling in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds, state-owned lands and primary aquifers; restrict fracking on certain forest and grassland areas; and require additional drinking water mitigation measures.
During the lengthy review process, DEC hosted numerous public forums and received more than 260,000 public comments. The FSGEIS includes a lengthy summary of the public comments and DEC’s response to comments, which is more than 300 pages long.