HYDRAULIC FRACTURING

N.Y. releases long-awaited study that prompted fracking ban

New York state officials yesterday finally unveiled the controversial environmental study that led to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) decision to ban hydraulic fracturing in the Empire State.

The final environmental impact statement, in the works for almost seven years, outlines the health and environmental concerns cited by Cuomo's administration in December, when acting state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said fracking's risks outweigh its potential economic benefits.

The decision set off victory celebrations from the environmental community and furor from New York landowners and drillers who hoped to profit on the state's share of the natural-gas-rich Marcellus Shale -- which has spurred extensive development just across New York's border in Pennsylvania (EnergyWire, Dec. 18, 2014).

The final EIS contemplates a detailed set of regulations that would be needed if shale development were allowed in the state. To protect waterways and other sensitive areas, the study estimates that 7.5 million of New York's 12 million Marcellus acres would be placed off limits -- greatly diminishing potential development and profits.

"In response to additional scientific information regarding the magnitude of high-volume hydraulic fracturing's potential significant adverse impacts, the Department considered expanding many of the mitigation measures previously proposed in the [draft environmental study] to protect public health and the environment with a greater margin of safety," the executive summary says. "As a result, more and more area within the Marcellus Shale fairway would be off limits to high-volume hydraulic fracturing."

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Proponents of shale development were dismayed at the release of the final EIS yesterday but vowed to fight it.

"Unfortunately, the Department of Environmental Conservation ignored their statutory responsibility to promote the development of New York's plentiful oil and gas resources," Business Council of New York CEO Heather Briccetti said in a statement. "We are confident that today's decision will ultimately be reversed. But for many New Yorkers looking for new jobs and new economic opportunity, that day will come too late."

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens can now issue a "findings statement" after 10 days to make New York's fracking ban official. Groups opposed to the ban can move forward on potential legal challenges once the findings statement is issued.

The Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, which brought several failed legal challenges throughout the decisionmaking process, said in January that it will sue the Cuomo administration if it can raise sufficient funds (EnergyWire, Jan. 12). And New York State Petroleum Council Executive Director Karen Moreau said her group is also considering legal action (EnergyWire, April 29).

Environmentalists, meanwhile, praised the EIS as confirmation that New York should remain off limits to fracking.

"This report appears to solidly back up the governor's decision to ban fracking in New York," the Natural Resources Defense Council's Kate Sinding said in a statement. "New Yorkers have valid concerns about the threats fracking would pose to the air we breathe, the water we drink and the communities we live in. In the coming days, we will be digging through this lengthy analysis with a fine tooth comb. The governor has rightfully let science and the will of the people be his guide, despite pressure from a powerful industry. He should continue to proudly stand his ground."

Twitter: @ellengilmer | Email: egilmer@eenews.net

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