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A hydro fracking tower. (Photo: Innovation Trail)
A hydro fracking tower. (Photo: Innovation Trail)

Hydrofracking postponed, for now

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The state's environmental agency is putting the brakes on the process to approve hydrofracking on some private lands in New York. That's after a key advisory panel says it will miss a November 1 deadline to issue a report. In Albany, Karen DeWitt reports.

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Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

The State’s Environmental Commissioner, Joe Martens, says the report from the advisory committee, will not be issued next month as originally planned, partly because data on costs of fracking  to other state agencies, including  the departments of health and transportation, aren’t ready yet. 

Martens says the panel, made up of industry, environmental and community representatives,  will be meeting through January of 2012 to try to issue a report that will address costs to local governments, as well as the state costs.

“There’s no firm timetable,” Martens said.

Martens says the data on the potential costs of hydro fracking to the state is “unlikely” to be ready in time for the governor’s budget proposal in January, and he says if it’s not completed until February or March, it might be “push it out” beyond the start of the new fiscal year, on April 1st.

The DEC Commissioners was asked, following the three hour meeting, whether he  thinks  hydrofracking  permits will be issued in 2012. 

“It is really hard to predict,” Martens said. “We have a lot of work left to do”.

Commissioner Martens says just the review of the thousands of comments that have been received during an ongoing public comment period will take months. The public comment period is scheduled to end December 12.

Rob Moore, a panel member who is also with Environmental Advocates, says giving the group extra time to complete its work is a “positive development”.

“We don’t let the budget clock dictate the state’s deliberations on this,” said Moore. “The gas has been down there one hundred million years, it will be down there forever, we’ve got plenty of time to get to it.”

Eric Goldstein, with the Natural Resources Defense Council, also a panel member, says he’s relieved that the process is slowing down a bit.

“The entire fracking train from here on in will be traveling at a more reasonable pace,” said Goldstein.

Goldstein, in a blog post, had earlier criticized the Cuomo administration for what he said was a fast tracking of the fracking review process. Goldstein says he would like to see the public comment period extended for another two or three months beyond the mid December date. Commissioner Martens did not rule out the idea, saying he’s “considering every comment and request”.

The advisory panel also heard from a consultant who conducted a socio-economic impact study on fracking in New York. Some details of the report released earlier this year said that as many as 50,000  jobs could be created from hydrofracking in the Marcellus shale in upstate New York.

Rob Moore, with Environmental Advocates and also a panel member, says he just learned at Tuesday’s meeting, though, that the consultant had not estimated costs that could be incurred by local governments, including road repairs, police and fire costs, and hospital and medical expenses associated with the industrialization of portions of upstate New York.  Moore says the consultants claim they weren’t told to include that analysis in their report. 

“They usually don’t just quantify the happy benefit side of it,” said Moore. “You want to look at the whole picture, that’s what makes it an analysis.”

Moore predicts that it will be difficult for the panel to adequately address the costs of fracking without that information.

In addition to assessing the costs to state and local governments, the advisory panel is also charged with approving fees and new taxes to help pay for  the costs incurred from fracking. Moore predicts the estimates on revenues won’t be ready in time for the new state budget, either.

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