A moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in New York State ends today, and it looks like Governor Cuomo will lift the ban put in place by previous Governor Patterson.
The moratorium was put in place in response to growing evidence that hydraulic fracturing for natural gas pollutes underground aquifers with toxic chemicals.
Hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking") involves pumping large volumes of water and chemicals under pressure into underground shale formations to fracture the rock and release natural gas.
The process has revitalized the domestic natural gas industry, particularly surrounding the Marcellus Shale formation in the Northeast, but it presents a risk throughout the US.
New York's moratorium only limited fracking that used horizontal drilling (as opposed to vertical drilling). Horizontal drilling has been used in over 3,000 wells in neighboring Pennsylvania.
In horizontal wells, drills go deep into the shale formation for roughly a mile and then turn 90 degrees and continue sideways for as far as another mile before injecting more than 80,000 gallons of fracking fluids.
The horizontal technique has allowed economically feasible recovery of natural gas in Pennsylvania - proponents say New York is missing out on the associate jobs and revenue.
New York's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) recommends the state allow horizontal fracking on private land “under rigorous and effective controls.” The ban would continue on public lands and in the Syracuse and New York City watersheds.
According to the Buffalo News, such rules would give drillers access to about 85% of the state's Marcellus Shale.
But a drilling boom won't start right away. DEC is releasing a 1,000 page report and opening a 60-day public comment period before making final revisions that will affect drilling permits.
As a result, horizontal hydraulic fracturing isn't likely to start until next year.
State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) told the Buffalo News that ending the moratorium is premature.
“There are simply too many unknowns to risk inflicting long-term, potentially catastrophic damage to New York’s environment and water supply,” he says. “At a minimum, New York should wait until the [U. S. Environmental Protection Agency] completes its own study on hydraulic fracturing before even considering whether the state should permit this type of drilling activity.”
EPA to Regulate Air Pollution From Fracking
The EPA is developing air quality regulations related to fracking and is studying ground water risks.
EPA Secretary Lisa Jackson says the regulations will control air pollution in areas that face new impacts from fracking noting the growing smog problems in rural areas where drilling is taking place.
"There is a lot of activity around those wells and that has an impact on air quality — and we know it already. The EPA will soon be coming out with regulations to deal with the air quality around natural gas production,” she says.
The phrase "new impacts" is a red flag. Does it mean that existing wells wouldn't be covered by regulations, only new ones? EPA's regulations are due two years from now - we won't know until then.