Journalism in the Public Interest

New York Proposes Permanent Ban on Fracking Near Watershed and State Land

5:31 p.m.: This post has been updated.

The New York Times reported today that New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo is planning to lift a "ban" on hydraulic fracturing. But whatever the governor announces tomorrow, it's unlikely to change the de facto moratorium on drilling in the state that began nearly three years ago, when the state committed to a fresh environmental review.

New York Department of Environment Conservation officials have repeatedly said they cannot issue any new drilling permits until the state completes the environmental review, ordered in 2008 by Cuomo's predecessor, David Paterson. The final review will not be complete for a few months at the earliest.

Despite the department's assurances, Paterson signed an executive order last year stating that large-volume hydraulic fracturing will not be allowed until the review is complete. As we reported at the time, Patterson's move was largely symbolic. His executive order never used the word "moratorium," and the law requiring environmental review was already in place.

It appears as though it's that symbolic ban that is at play now.

Cuomo has asked the DEC to complete its review by tomorrow. According to Michael Bopp, a DEC spokesman, the department will give the governor a version of the revised environmental review, as requested. But that update will not be the official draft that still has to work its way through the legal permitting process, Bopp said. He did not say when that draft will be released.

Once it is, state law requires that the draft go through a public comment period of at least 30 days before regulators can write the final rules.

All of which means it will likely be at least a few months—perhaps next spring—before the type of hydraulic fracturing used in the Marcellus Shale can be allowed in the state, with or without a ban from the governor.

We've put out emails and a call to the governor's office but haven't received a response yet.

Update: New York's Department of Environmental Conservation just announced it will recommend prohibiting high-volume hydraulic fracturing in and around the watersheds serving New York City and Syracuse. It will also recommend banning the practice on state-owned lands and in primary aquifers. Elsewhere, drilling would be allowed once the final rules are in place. In the release, the department said it plans to hold a 60-day public comment period on the proposal, beginning in August. The proposal would also require public disclosure of chemicals used in fracking.

How about we tell those states who say “NIMBY” that they can learn to live without the energy and products that come from the processes they decline to allow.

Both sides of the argument can’t agree whether hydraulic fracturing is safe, and by safe they mean that it does not contaminate the water table nearby.  The drillers refuse to reveal what goes into their fluids, so when water table contamination occurs, they simply deny that it is due to their wells. It seems to me that a straight-forward solution is to ask the drilling companies (and their owners) to back up their belief in the safety of their wells by requiring them to remedy any contamination that can be shown to be due to their fracking.  FOr proof, you need only add a ‘tracer’ chemical to the fracking fluid, with the tracer being unique to each drilling company.  Then, if contamination of the water table occurs, it would be simple to prove if it was due to fracking fluid, and what drilling company is responsible.  At that point, there would be no argument.

Yes Todd, If the process is safe, why not engage in full disclosure?

What about the Finger Lakes?!?


July 1, 2011, 7:19 a.m.

Wow, ok this is better news than what the NYT gave out. At least I know the watershed will not be contaminated.

Now if we can figure out if fracking can be done safely.

There were grave concerns among property owners along the northwest shores of Keuka Lake (a Finger Lake in Western NY) that a fracking operation proposed in close proximity might pose a threat to the lake. This coverage makes no mention of that region of NY. Does anyone know how this might impact those lakes??

I how ironic it is that “progress” is gradually increasing the elements of human self destruction.

Water has no boundaries. Air pollution migrates as well. It doesn’t matter if they don’t drill “near” a watershed or a lake. Air pollution from Ohio blows all the way to Pennsylvania. A contaminated water plume can travel up to 2000 miles.  High-volume slickwater hydraulic fracturing is a reckless, unsafe technology, period. There are no facilities and no adequately staffed regulatory offices to deal with the kind of waste it generates or the kind of pollution it gives rise to. If fracking is so safe and responsibly practiced, why did Dick Cheney have to take the deliberate step of exempting the methane companies from the Clean Water Act?

The heck it “doesn’t matter if they don’t drill near a watershed or lake.” If you’re a laker, it matters. The rest of the comment is painfully self-evident. Of course pollution, whether water or airborne, knows no boundaries. But this sort of activity in close proximity to a glacier-made, spring-fed body of water such as Keuka Lake would be a gross travesty and offensive to all who hold that place dear.

Elizabeth Manus

July 1, 2011, 12:05 p.m.

My mistake! Yes, it does matter if they rip up all the land near Keuka Lake. Of course.

Thanks, Elizabeth. Our family, lakers since 1949, is very concerned about this. We, along with thousands of others, flock to the lake every summer to find respite from the grind. We pump millions of dollars into the local tourism/vacation accommodation economy. I feel confident that any attempt to damage or destroy the Finger Lakes environment will be met by furious opposition.

The point I was attempting to make was more about using a surface model vs. a hydrogeologic model.

Elizabeth Manus

July 1, 2011, 1:21 p.m.

I was attempting to emphasize the difference between using a surface model and a hydrogeologic one.

L. Williamson

July 1, 2011, 2:19 p.m.

As usual downstate (NYC) gets protection while rural upstate residents can go to hell in a hand basket….nothing new here is there :-(

As a former resident of upstate New York and a person that truly loves every inch of New York State I find what is going on very sad.  Gov. Cuomo should be ashamed.

And, Pooch, we are all aware of the damage fossil fuels do to our country both environmentally and politically.  We are trying to conserve on energy here in the Northeast.  Do you work for an oil company, have a lease, or are you a resident of a deep south state where I still remember the bumper stickers that said “Drive 70 Freeze a Yankee”.  As a daughter of Virginia I found that embarrassing.

By the way, is your air conditioner running right now?  It’s 90 degrees here in Pennsylvania and mine is not.

Sandra Salisbury

July 1, 2011, 7:40 p.m.

The restrictions on drilling in New York watershed areas apparently DO NOT include prohibiting drilling in the Delaware River watershed.  This omission puts at risk the air and water of all landowners, residents and communities in this massive watershed in areas in New York State that are near the Delaware River and its tributaries.  Contamination of the Delaware River watershed also threatens to contaminate the aquifers and river water serving millions of residents in the states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.  (Sorry Philadelphia!)

Governor Cuomo’s decision has been taken in outrageous disregard of the health and rights of the now and future populations and wildlife in this huge area. How disappointing and scary!

marie senilla

July 4, 2011, 10:52 a.m.

this process can not be regulated to make industrialization of our upstate foodsheds and watersheds ‘safe’. It can not be regulated to ensure that water and air is not contaminated with VOCs and ozone. It can not be regulated to make sure that climate impacts from on-going hydrocarbon extraction is somehow undone.

that’s why Propublica’s pushing of regulated gas drilling is a scam.

We demand a statewide ban now and only support for Senator Tony Avella’s S4220 bill to ban hydrofracking will do that. Why didn’t ‘environmental’ organizations like the Natural Resource Destruction (oh, I mean, Defense) Council, Riverkeeper, Food and Water Watch, and Frack Action promote Avella’s bill? Now that’s a real investigative journalism piece!

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

Fracking: Gas Drilling’s Environmental Threat

The promise of abundant natural gas is colliding with fears about water contamination.

The Story So Far

The country’s push to find clean domestic energy has zeroed in on natural gas, but cases of water contamination have raised serious questions about the primary drilling method being used. Vast deposits of natural gas, large enough to supply the country for decades, have brought a drilling boom stretching across 31 states. The drilling technique being used, called hydraulic fracturing, shoots water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release the gas.

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