Comments from NY DEC Joe Martens on Timing of New Drilling Regulations – And an MDN Prediction

Drilling in the Marcellus Shale in New York State has been on hold now for more than two years. Last year, the State Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”) issued new draft guidelines for drilling, but fierce opposition arose from some, including powerful people in the state like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and so the DEC retreated from its plan to move forward. Then-Gov. David Paterson issued an executive order late last year placing a moratorium on drilling until June 1 of this year to give the DEC more time.

Since the Paterson moratorium went into effect, New York has installed a new governor (Andrew Cuomo), and a new head of the DEC (Joe Martens). As MDN has chronicled, Mr. Martens was a loud voice against drilling before he was appointed to head the DEC (see here). He now seems to be singing a different tune and has made noises about moving forward with drilling. A few weeks ago in an interview with National Public Radio, he said that the new Marcellus Shale drilling regulations should  be ready sometime “this summer,” giving new hope to landowners in the state.

We now have a bit more information about just how long this will be dragged out for New Yorkers.

In an executive order before he left office, former Gov. David Paterson directed the DEC to complete a second draft of its drilling guidelines — the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement — "on or about June 1." Martens said Wednesday that wasn’t a hard deadline and the work would likely continue through the summer. Then, there will be a public comment period of at least 30 days.

"We have to figure out just how long we want to make that comment period," said Martens, who believes gas drilling in the Marcellus is the most daunting issue the DEC has faced in its 40-year history. "If our revisions are extensive, and I think they will be, we’ll allow more time for public comment. Then we’ll take time to digest those comments before we put out a final document that will be the basis for the regulatory program."*

Martens also does not rule out throwing out the existing draft and starting over again.

"Some people say we should reopen the process. We’re looking at all of that," Martens said. "We’re trying to solicit and digest all the information we can and put it into a document that addresses all the concerns raised to date. It’s a really formidable task."*

Reading between the lines, MDN expects the new draft regulations to be released around the end of August or beginning of September. Then, a generous 60 days of public comment. Then the DEC has to think some more about it. End result: We’re now looking at 2012 before drilling will begin.

*Elmira Star-Gazette (Mar 31, 2011) – DEC chief: Gas-drilling review likely to run through summer