Tuesday, November 20, 2012

NY's fracking struggle moves past Nov. 29 policy deadline Questions on health could prompt indefinite delay

Mired in controversy and unable to make a Nov. 29 deadline to finalize New York's shale gas regulations, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration now has to decide whether it will seek a 90-day extension or simply back away and start again.

One thing we know, the administration is sharing very little of the internal mechanics of the policy struggle, leaving stakeholders to connect the dots and read what they can into the governor’s vague statements. In an interview with radio host Fred Dicker on WGDJ AM today, Cuomo confirmed what was widely anticipated -- that the administration would be unable to meet a Nov. 29 deadline to finalize shale gas regulations.

“We want a proper process,” Cuomo said. “We want it expeditiously as possible. I don't see how we get it done by next week."

The administration now faces the choices of letting the rulemaking application expire and restarting the contentious process – including more public hearings. Or it can file for a 90-day extension, which will require releasing a draft of the regulations and opening the process to public comment. (More on those options here.)

Regardless of future options, missing the deadline sends a signal that the state is unprepared to move foreward with shale gas development.

Kate Sinding, senior attorney for the National Resource Defense Council, has met with DEC officials regarding the process in previous months. Sinding reported that the agency has promised the NRDC and several other influential environmental groups that it would not move forward with policy decisions until it had accounted for health risks associated with high volume hydraulic fracturing. To that end, the agency has commissioned a group of experts to review the DEC’s work and make recommendations, possibly by late February. (More on that here)

Sinding said today she believes the DEC will not seek an extension, because that would require releasing regulations that have not taken into account recommendations from the health panel. And that would be acting in bad faith.

“The anger they would provoke (among environmental groups and ant-fracking activists) would be very significant,” Sinding said. “The agency has taken the position that is not going to be subject to pressure or rush this through, and I don’t expect that to change.”

Cuomo, meanwhile, has already provoked the anger of industry supporters by conceding the Nov. 29 deadline. Drilling proponents and industry groups, including the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York and the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, have been urging the administration to finalize regulations to open access to New York’s portion of the Marcellus and Utica shales – two of the largest shale gas reserves in the world -- sooner, rather than later. Today Dan Fitzsimmons, head of the Join Landowners Coalition, wrote in an open letter to the governor that the state has already considered 80,000 comments, and delay beyond the Nov. 29, deadline "is a breach of faith in our government and flies in the face of the promise that New York is beyond its dysfunction and truly open for new business investment.”


  1. If Governor Cuomo truly wants "a proper process," a formal Health Impact Assessment would be the best course of action. At the very least, Gov. Cuomo should release the current study to the public, allow the public sufficient time to comment on the study (which will require more than 30 days if he wants well-researched comments, including comments from the busy medical community), and schedule public hearings throughout the state to give members of the public ample opportunity to air their concerns in an open forum.

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