NY Drilling Delayed Again: Public Comment Period on New Regulations Delayed by DEC’s Joe Martens for Additional Month, Maybe Longer

detourOnce again New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens has delayed the start of Marcellus gas drilling—this time by at least an additional 30 days, maybe longer. The “nearly” final draft drilling regulations, called the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS), were released on July 8 (originally supposed to be released July 1 as ordered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo). At that time, Mr. Martens said there would be a 60-day public comment period that would begin in August. Then the DEC would review those comments, tweak the regulations, and issue the final regulations sometime late this year.

The 60-day public comment period will now not begin until “late summer,” which in DEC-speak means September. Why?

The DEC had commissioned a study with a consulting firm to look at the socioeconomic effects of gas drilling—that is, how drilling will affect light levels, noise levels, truck traffic, and more. What is often referred to as concerns about “industrializing” a community. The report, just delivered to the DEC, includes recommendations for how to lessen the impact of drilling on communities. The DEC wants to figure out how to include the results of the report in a new “final” draft SGEIS. (If you go back to 2009, this will be the third “final” draft SGEIS.)

The public will likely have to wait until September to get its say on the state’s review of the controversial hydraulic fracturing process for natural gas drilling.

The Department of Environmental Conservation received a report late last month from a Buffalo-based consulting company that proposes ways to limit the effects on communities and municipalities from an anticipated spike in activity by the natural gas industry.

The department now is considering how to plug the consultant’s recommendations into its own proposed regulations, spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said Monday. After that, an updated draft of DEC proposals will be made public and opened up to a 60-day comment period by "late summer," likely beginning in September, she said.

The comment period was originally expected to start this month.

"What we’ve been saying all along is that there is no firm time frame for this," DeSantis said. "We’re taking the time to make sure this is done right."

Ecology and Environment Inc. was hired by the DEC earlier this year to highlight both the positive and negative socioeconomic effects of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations, which sit beneath the Southern Tier and other portions of New York.

The company’s report, which will be made public when the comment period opens, was also set to include an analysis of visual and noise impacts from the industry, as well as the effects of increased truck traffic on the state’s infrastructure.*

Those opposed to drilling are calling on the DEC to conduct public hearings so they can engage in kabuki theater. Those who support drilling are encouraging the DEC to allow only written public comments, which they argue are a better way to convey serious arguments for and against drilling, and avoid the drama that accompanies public hearings on this topic. Given Mr. Martens background and behavior thus far (foot-dragging delays, packing a special advisory committee with antis, etc.), MDN’s money is on public hearings. Should be an interesting late summer fall.

*Elmira Star-Gazette (Aug 1, 2011) – Hydrofracking comment period to start in ‘late summer,’ DEC says