Monday, January 11, 2010


Here we are, after the end of the comment period on the DEC’s “Final” sGEIS on natural gas drilling, waiting for the last governmental shoe to fall. Is there a dialog going on within the walls of the executive branch on whether to blandly update the document, or to hold off drilling or even scrap and replace it as the EPA, New York City, key New York pols, and the union representing 2000 DEC professionals, scientists and technicians have variously urged? Might we next hear that it has been finalized and that a first permit has been issued to drillers in the town of Hancock? That is to worry.

A piece in this morning’s Albany Times Union has endorsed the delay fray and raised another valid point: that the size of the Marcellus play as apparently contemplated by State officials may be just too big. For the first time, I am seeing some stunning figures on state tax and other income that have been dancing in their eyes. Thirty-two million in tax revenue and a whopping $1.4 billion overall, per year! Would they be so keen if trusted voices were to advise them to cut those numbers down substantially? And, once the floodgates are open and the quantum effects of drilling, fracturing, and waste disposal become palpable, will the DEC even be able to shift gears and begin denying permits based on statewide, or even county-wide, density? After all, new players won’t want to acknowledge and be bound by the errors of their competitors. They will probably sue.

That brings up a point I raised last spring in one of my unanswered letters to the DEC, and which I have not seen voiced elsewhere. Whenever the gas play begins, assuming it will, the DEC, if not the local governments which have been elbowed aside, should be in charge of it, and not the gas industry. I don’t get why government must be reactive, letting industry decide when, where and how it will drill, and limiting its own powers to approving, tweaking, or disapproving the plans as proposed. Industry cares about the geology; it doesn’t give a f... about water supplies, local communities or natural beauty. Allegedly, the State does care about these things. Why can’t New York turn the tables around and say, “You’ve got these seven leased sites. We’ll let you begin on Site 5, because it is not proximate to human habitation and because the probability of wastes entering water systems from here is minimal” (Plus other factors seen as environmentally significant.)? In my view, this is the way we should go, if and when we do go. The start should be slow and measured. It will allow the DEC’s small staff to acquaint itself with the realities of the horizontal fracking process before it gets out of hand.

Comments welcome.

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