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These communities that may want to participate in the comment period are preoccupied [with the floods].

Fracking floods!

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The news has been dominated this week by more flooding from the remnants of hurricane Lee, and the release from the state's environmental agency of a draft final report on hydrofracking. As Karen DeWitt reports, a key state lawmaker says there are several areas in which these two issues converge.

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Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

Assembly Energy Committee Chair Kevin Cahill says he’s disappointed with Governor Cuomo’s Department of Environmental Conservation’s decision to limit a public comment period on a draft final report on hydrofracking to 90 days. The DEC did extend the comment period from the initial 60 days to the 90 days.

But Cahill says many of the key regions in the Marcellus shale are also areas that were flooded by tropical storm Irene and now the remnants of hurricane Lee, and several of the counties there have been declared federal disaster areas. He says people there will be too busy cleaning up ruined homes and businesses to focus on attending hearings or submitting opinions on the future of hydro fracking in New York.

“These communities that may want to participate in the comment period are preoccupied,” said Cahill said who says they are instead “dealing with trying to help  protect the lives and property of their citizens”.

And Cahill says information on what areas might be vulnerable to flooding, and therefore not appropriate for  fracking, is changing.

The Assemblyman, whose own house in Kingston briefly became an island during tropical storm Irene, says engineers at the agency should reconsider areas that they have determined to be 100 year flood plains and therefore off limits to gas drilling.

Cahill says that data, after the storms of the past two weeks, might now be out of date. He says parts of the Catskill Mountains alone have had five catastrophic flooding events in the past three years, evidence, he says that weather patterns are changing. .

“We know from the past several weeks that the definition of flood planes as we know them from our maps are antiquated,” said Cahill. "We need to re- map our flood plains.”

DEC Spokeswoman Emily DeSantis responded to Cahill’s request, saying,  “The recent extreme weather and flooding bring a host of issues to the forefront. Commissioner Martens is participating in the Storm and Flood Recovery Task Force that will look at how to address these issues including flood plains."

Assemblyman Cahill says he’s also concerned that beleaguered farmers, who saw their crops washed out this year from the effects of Irene and Lee, might find themselves in a financially vulnerable position and make a decision to sell or lease land to gas companies, a choice that they might not otherwise have made if they were not dealing with the aftermath of an extreme flood.

“Maybe they are just going to be looking for an easy way to get back on their feet,” said Cahill. “This could provide that for the short term, with longer term implications that have not been fully vetted.”

Cahill says Democrats, who are in the majority in the state Assembly, have sponsored bills to renew a now expired moratorium on hydro fracking in New York. But he says the State Senate, led by Republicans, many of whom say gas drilling will revive the economy, have not been interested in the measures.

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