An interesting bit of prose, however not confirmed by any official channels so treat it as what it is, a set of comments by Mr LeBrun, who is attributed with the writing, who may not be all that pleased by any approvals that may take place.JLCpulse
August 3, 2012 Fred LeBrun in Timesunion.com
For those desperately hoping against hope that high volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing for natural gas will be blocked from coming into New York state, sorry. For you, the end of the world arrives before Labor Day.
Top state officials are in the process of briefing selected environmental groups on a plan to be publicly released in a couple of weeks. It’s a plan that unsurprisingly endorses hydrofracking, initially on a limited basis, supposedly under the tightest regulatory and permitting requirements in the country.
The Department of Environmental Conservation is wading through the last of the more than 60,000 public comments received on the draft environmental impact statement over fracking. We have been assured those public comments will be reflected in the final environmental statement and in the subsequent new state fracking regulations that result.
Details of the plan, which no doubt will be tweaked before going public, are scant, but generally follow those contained in the trial balloon floated in The New York Times a few weeks ago. Namely, that in the first year (2013), only 50 wells will be permitted, the second year, 100, and then only in towns that want them.
This is consistent with what the governor has alluded to as a “ramp-up period,” should fracking occur. Well, apparently it’s going to. No new DEC monitoring or inspection staff members will be added for the first run of wells, and initially nothing will be done to regulate removing highly contaminated wastewater from well sites. It will be treated as “medical waste,” a lower legal level of concern than toxic waste. No direct taxes or levies on the drilling industry are in the initial plans. Even Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s excellent idea of extending the oil spill fund concept to the gas drillers to cover local mishap costs to property owners and municipalities has no traction, I’m told, because of where the idea came from, not because it lacks merit. What does differ from the trial balloon is that it seems the administration has concluded it cannot rely on the strength of existing laws and current DEC funding in this area to adequately protect the state, its citizens and resources.
For fracking to go forward, the Legislature will be called on for extra DEC funding and to pass a package of yet unspecified regulatory bills. This will make the Legislature a full partner in the charms and risks of hydrofracking, and should make for an interesting and shifting dynamic as we go forward.
There are certainly a number of areas were current regulations or laws are inadequate or suspect, from required wastewater treatment and removal, to groundwater protection, health risk concerns and monetary safeguards against major screw-ups. An area that’s gotten little notice, for example, is the state Department of Transportation and the effect fracking will have on our roads, bridges and related infrastructure. As the voluminous draft generic environmental impact statement makes clear, the DOT has been working for years to anticipate the costs and problems fracking and the resulting explosion of truck traffic would bring to our roads. The dollar figures they reveal, even in a general way, are staggering.
Listed are the many local roads and secondary bridges, along with their state analogs, in Broome, Tioga and Chemung counties that would likely need major maintenance or replacement. That would be to the tune of $28 million to $31 million each for the bridges, and $300,000 and up per lane mile of pavement. A fracking truck on those roads is equivalent to 9,000 passenger cars in terms of wear and tear.Those are the DOT’s amazing statistics, not mine. What is equally amazing, or appalling, is that the DOT has no regulatory power over this extraordinary drilling industry invited into our state. The best they can wangle is some sort of road use agreement for paying for damage and wear.
Once again, the drilling industry is privatizing the profits, socializing the costs.
The experience in Pennsylvania, where a similar road use agreement exists, is that repayment seems to come up short, and is a long time in coming. This is certainly an area were new laws with new teeth are called for. Considering DiNapoli’s report last week on the dire fiscal straits of countless local governments in the state, local highway budgets simply cannot afford the luxury of fracking without full compensation .
Meanwhile, the highest courts in the state will have something to say about the fracking schedule. While not making much of an issue of it, the DEC as it goes forward by the end of the year with its fracking regulations is tacitly assuming the final word will not be in favor of home rule. Currently, two state Supreme Court decisions have awarded the localities the right to ban fracking activities if they wish. That is being appealed in a mid-level court, and we should see that decision any day. Then, no doubt, considering the stakes involved, the entire debate will ascend to the Court of Appeals, probably on an expedited basis, and it will be a delight to see what the last word is.
I believe home rule has a very good choice of prevailing. If that is the case, both the governor and drilling industry will have themselves a big problem in expanding hydrofracking to anywhere near the scale they’d ultimately like.
The other joker in the deck is the November election. For whatever reason, should the state Senate change hands and become Democratic, which is always possible in New York, the governor’s best laid plans will run right into a hostile conference, a conference he’s treated with utter contempt and which happens to house a number of members who have no use for fracking whatever.