The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation released draft recommendations on hydraulic fracturing June 29, one day before a statewide moratorium on the drilling process — also known as hydrofracking — was set to expire.
Hydrofracking is a drilling method that recovers natural gas deposits in the methane-rich ground between 6,000 and 9,000 feet under the surface. After vertical and horizontal shafts are drilled to get at the gas deposits, millions of gallons of water, sand and chemical additives are injected into these wells at high pressure, separating rock fissures and allowing gas to flow out of the drill bore.
The DEC recommends banning high-volume hydrofracking within the New York City and Syracuse watersheds; banning drilling within and 500 feet from primary aquifers and on state-owned land; and regulating drilling on other private lands. If approved, these recommendations could open the door to hydrofracking across the state, including in the Southern Tier, where it has been hotly debated.
As part of its legislative agenda, the New York State Catholic Conference in the past has recommended comprehensive hydrofracking legislation and regulations, which call for disclosing of all chemicals, additives and substances used in hydrofracking; establishing responsibility by the gas companies in cases of spills or groundwater or well contamination; requiring that gas companies fund, develop and maintain wastewater reservoirs and treatment plants for water used in hydrofracking; requiring that gas companies purchase water from public sources; requiring that homes, schools, hospitals, public and private water sources, and other sites be protected by buffer zones and setbacks from drilling operations; requiring that gas companies fund reconstruction of damaged or high-use infrastructure and emergency response costs; and revoking a current DEC policy called compulsory integration, which compels nonleaseholders to allow drilling under their land in exchange for compensation. The conference also has called for a tax to be established for each well drilled and for part of the taxes collected to fund human-needs programs, and that citizens become aware of the long- and short-term benefits and costs of the drilling.
Independent consultants with the DEC also are continuing research into the socioeconomic conditions and positives and negatives of the process; transportation infrastructure needed to support operations; and visual and noise impacts, which were not considered in 2009 recommendations about hydrofracking. The DEC expects the research will be complete by July 31 and will be incorporated into the final draft of the department’s report.
A 60-day public comment period on the final draft of the department’s report is expected to begin in August.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The complete DEC recommendations are available on the department’s website. The Catholic conference statement on hydrofracking is available here.