NY Fracking Advisory Panel Work Grinds to Halt

no work zoneAs part of the process to enact new drilling regulations in New York State, Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens appointed a Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel last July to make recommendations to the DEC on how to oversee, monitor and enforce new shale drilling regulations in the state (see this MDN story for background). An important part of the panel’s duty is to craft a new fee structure to generate state revenue from a potential gas-drilling boom. But the work of the panel has now ground to halt.

The panel hasn’t met since Dec. 20, and two January meetings were canceled. Since its launch in August, it has met a total of six times behind closed doors and postponed four meetings.

The infrequent schedule stands in stark contrast to the original timeline the DEC laid out for the panel. It called for recommendations on a state-level fee structure for gas drilling to be completed in November; a fee system for local governments was to be completed by February.

Since then, the agency agreed to combine the two sets of recommendations into a single report at the request of committee members. It has lifted any deadlines indefinitely.*

Anti-driller panel member Rob Moore offers this excuse:

"The panel itself generated a lot more questions than answers, so I think (the DEC) wants to give us plenty of time to really scrutinize a lot more aspects of the budgetary considerations," said Rob Moore, a member of the panel and executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York.*

DEC spokesperson Emily DeSantis says the DEC is too distracted by reviewing some 46,000 public comments that were filed on the latest draft of proposed new drilling regulations to be bothered with running more meetings of the panel right now:

"Additional panel meetings were previously scheduled, but we are reviewing that schedule as our primary focus is currently on reviewing the public comments," DeSantis wrote in an email.*

A further excuse offered by anti-drilling panel members is that other state agencies have yet to provide numbers for additional staffing to handle a ramp-up in drilling activity:

One of the major impediments to coming up with any fee proposals, some panel members said, is a lack of information on how a gas-drilling boom would affect other state agencies, such as the state Health, Public Service, and Transportation departments.

The DEC provided the committee with a detailed, five-year estimate on necessary staffing levels in September, but the other agencies have yet to provide specific estimates.

Commenting on when the budget numbers owed the panel from other state agencies will be forthcoming, DeSantis offered this helpful timetable:

"The resource needs of state agencies will be presented to the panel at a later time," DeSantis, the DEC spokeswoman, wrote. "Our primary focus is currently on reviewing the public comments."*

*Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette (Feb 5, 2012) – DEC panel wades through responses