NY DEC Commissioner Signals Drilling May Not Begin in 2012

In what is surely a blow to landowners in New York, the Commissioner of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Joe Martens, signaled yesterday that drilling permits may not be issued in 2012 as previously hoped. The delay this time comes from the Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel appointed by Martens and stacked with anti-drilling members who supposedly are there to advise Martens on implementing new regulations to allow shale gas drilling (see this MDN story for background on the panel).

It looks like Martens’ strategy of stacking the panel with anti-drillers has paid off and will now delay shale gas drilling beyond 2012. Martens clearly does not want shale gas drilling to proceed in New York. Will this be the final tipping point before landowners take the state to court to demand their property rights stop being violated?

State Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens raised doubts Tuesday that the state will be ready to issue permits next year for the controversial natural gas drilling technique known as hydrofracking.

Emerging from a meeting of the governor’s advisory panel — assembled to advise the state on how to organize staff and resources needed to oversee a likely drilling boom in the gas-rich Marcellus Shale — Martens said the group will miss its planned Nov. 1 deadline for a report, likely by months.

Hydrofracking opponents on the panel welcomed the news as a sign the state is slowing efforts to have drilling commence next year, while an industry group said it remained optimistic.

Martens said the High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel still has no estimates on what resources will be needed by four major state agencies: Health, Transportation, Agriculture & Markets, and Public Service.

Without that information, as well as further details on how local governments might be impacted by gas drilling, the panel won’t be able to meet the report deadline set by Gov. Andrew Cuomo when he appointed the group in July.

"The panel will make its report sometime next year, but there is no firm timeline. … Eventually the agencies will submit their information, but I can’t tell you when," Martens said after the panel met behind closed doors for more than three hours at DEC headquarters in Albany.

Asked if a 2012 start to drilling is realistic, Martens said, "That is really hard to predict. There is lot of work left to do."*

*Albany Times Union (Oct 25, 2011) – Drill date ‘hard to predict’