Journalism in the Public Interest

Leaked Memo Depicts Bare-Bones Regulatory Environment for NY Gas Drilling

Memo from fired New York environmental chief says Paterson budget cuts would make it harder to clean up spills, respond to natural gas drilling in New York state.


Pete Grannis, now the former commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, was dismissed from his post after penning an internal memo that criticized Gov. David Paterson's budget cuts. (Mike Groll/AP Photo)

The leaked memo that led to the dismissal of New York's top environmental official last week depicts a severely understaffed agency that has struggled to adequately perform its duties over the past two years and is ill-equipped to supervise natural gas drilling.

"All of the meat has been snipped free of the bones, and some of the bones have disappeared," wrote Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis in the memo. "Many of our programs are hanging by a thread."

The Albany Times Union reported on the internal memo last Tuesday. Grannis was dismissed by Gov. David Paterson two days later. In the aftermath, environmental groups are rallying behind Grannis, and gas drilling companies are calling for a better-financed DEC that can more effectively regulate drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

The memo, which responded to a request from the governor's budget division that the DEC cut 209 people from its staff by the end of the year, described an agency that is "in the weakest position it has been since it was created 40 years ago."

"The public would be shocked to learn how thin we are in many areas," Grannis wrote. "The risks to human health ... have already increased with respect to enforcement activities related to pollution sources. ... We are now responding to and cleaning up fewer petroleum spills."

Calls to the DEC were directed to the governor's office, where spokeswoman Jessica Bassett confirmed that Grannis had been terminated but declined to comment about how the DEC would be able to perform its duties with additional cuts.

"We had to make some difficult decisions," said Bassett. "All (budget) areas have been affected," not just environmental agencies, she said.

Environmental groups are calling for Grannis to be reinstated as commissioner, a position he had held since 2007.

"Pete Grannis has been a steadfast champion for decades, and was a dedicated public servant who truly understood all the environmental challenges facing New York State," reads a statement by the conservation group Audubon New York. "It's a shame that the Paterson administration's assault on the environment has claimed another strong advocate."

But Grannis and his agency have not always been hailed by environmental groups, which have criticized the state's oversight of gas development.

ProPublica launched an investigation into the hidden costs of gas drilling in 2008. A series of articles revealed that New York regulators were both unaware that the drilling technique known as hydrofracking would pump toxic chemicals underground and not sure how the state would dispose of the waste water produced in the process.

"As disappointed as we were with Grannis, the fact of the matter is that the DEC is our protector," said Ramsay Adams, executive director of the environmental group Catskill Mountainkeepers. "But if things were being regulated at a pitiful level before, what's going to happen now?"

According to the Grannis memo, the loss of 209 jobs would be a significant blow to the agency, which would be left with a total of 2,926 staffers if those cuts were implemented. The memo states that the DEC will have lost more than 20 percent of its workforce since April 2008 from attrition and recession-triggered downsizing. It lost another 800 jobs in the decade before former Gov. Eliot Spitzer was elected in 2006.

Grannis wrote that many of the agency's responsibilities would have to be delegated to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which is preparing a report on the safety of hydraulic fracturing.

Arthur Michael Ambrosino

Oct. 26, 2010, 3:48 p.m.

I have read the list of chemicals listed in hydrofracturing muds and there are almost none serious enough to cause a threat to drinking water. Opening up pent-up gas in the process though, probably will cause some contaminated wells to become natural gas saturated, but by-and-large those well loses could be remedied with municipal water sources, paid for by the gas companies. America was great once, because we knew we had to make progress, its part of our DNA. For ProPublica to denounce hydrofracturing carte blanche without considering alternative strategies is fool hearted, to the max….

Here is a link from the Pennsylvania Department of Protection, which lists the chemicals used in the hydrofracking process. list 6-30-2010.pdf

I think you are being disingenuous when you claim, “there are almost none serious enough to cause a threat to drinking water.”  Surely you jest!

Napthalene, for one, is a known carcinogen that I would not want in my drinking water, not to mention toluene, formaldahyde, diethylbenzene, and a few of the others that are listed.

Hydrofracking is not the vertical drilling we all are familiar with.  When you start forcing water & dangerous chemicals between strata, as in hydrofracking, you set up a situation where ground and well water can be compromised.

It’s unfortunate that proponents of hydrofracking only care about profits and not human lives.

“America was great once, because we knew we had to make progress, its part of our DNA.”

Oh yes, more of that corporate manifest destiny BS. The American Indian didn’t buy it and neither do I.

Progress may be part of our DNA, but Napthaline is not.

A.M.A. a play on the logo. Well, you got your 15 seconds of fame, but you just think it’s all for fun. Might you volunteer to sample the named chemicals for perhaps a weeks worth of hydration? Or are you just having fun? Playback, from another perspective, if you can.

Evelyn Bhumgara

Oct. 27, 2010, 8:21 a.m.

The upstate area marked for drilling is like a giant sponge that holds and filters the water that runs south in rivers above and below ground eventually ending in the Chesapeak.  Think of the concentration of chemicals that will find it’s way to that beleaguered Bay.  EB

Hydrofracking is just another way for oil to continue to be our poison pill.  I live in up state New York and do not want is to go through. 
We won’t end our dependence on oil until we have the economic incentive to do so, a great way to do that is to limit how much oil we can pull out of the ground. 
Stopping hyrdofracking would in the long run raise the cost of oil, which would hopefully encourage Americans to start looking for viable alternative energy sources opposed to just looking for more oil. 
I would encourage landowners that when your approached by oil companies for land rights use, you tell them no thank you.  If enough land owner do so oil companies will have no where to drill. 
Secondly I am certainly concerned with what will happen to the quality of our drinking water, I would like to see the EPA release some studies on what happens to the water table when hydrofracking occurs nearby.

Victoria Lesser

Oct. 27, 2010, 11:35 a.m.

We have lost our minds, we are operating from Insanity if we continue to allow these energy companies to remain excused from having to adhere to the safe drinking water act, safe air and water, all the laws Bush/Cheney exempted them from in 2005. Close the Halliburton Loophole. We are talking about clean, safe drinking water being contaminated, what are we thinking???

1st commenter is a troll. probably hired by the gas companies or so stupid that he doesnt know he could be getting paid to spout their propaganda. anyone curious about fracking should watch “Gasland”

Gloria Forouzan

Oct. 29, 2010, 6:17 a.m.

Nov. 3 Marcellus Rally in Pittsburgh.
Learned yesterday that there will also be protests held in Ft. Worth & Little Rock on Nov. 3.

Uranium in groundwater? ‘Fracking’ mobilizes uranium in marcellus shale

The above link gives another tale about this business. Those interested, should read it. I suggest that the author of the article give this a read also.

In upstate NY tourism generates billions more than fracking will ever bring into the area, if we lose18% of our tourism we will see no benefit from gas drilling.

If we drill on state land where will all the hunters go to hunt, you can not hunt at a well pad or near it. They will clear at least 5 acres of forest, 24/7 noise where will the animals go that we hunt for?
Just the dollars from hunters will make up more than drilling will.

It is not an economic choice for long term health of the state.

Our state will survive fine without drilling, I don’t think we will survive drilling.
Think about it folks, stop drilling and put all that money into creating sustainable jobs.

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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