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Where drillers want to use hydrofracking in New York: pending well permit applications for high-volume hydraulic fracturing. Image: Innovation Trail
Where drillers want to use hydrofracking in New York: pending well permit applications for high-volume hydraulic fracturing. Image: Innovation Trail

Fracking opponents prep for comments fight

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New York's Department of Environmental Conservation released a draft set of regulations for hydraulic fracturing in November. Those proposed rules are open for public comment until Jan. 11, 2013.

Fracking opponents are preparing to make the most of the opportunity.

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Reported by

Matt Richmond
Reporter, The Innovation Trail

Helen Slottje is an Ithaca-based lawyer who helped develop town bans against drilling. She spoke to a friendly crowd at the Unitarian Church of Ithaca.

"It seems like it's become sort of an annual holiday tradition to talk about the SGEIS, SEQRA [NY State Environmental Quality Review Act], regs and all of that. I'm glad to be here again, celebrating the holidays this sort of way."

Slottje went on to describe a plan to challenge the DEC's fracking rulemaking process. She argues that the Nov. 29 deadline that triggered the release of the draft regulations should apply to the whole environmental review process, called the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement or SGEIS.

In this case, the DEC applied for a 90-day extension for the rules, but not the SGEIS.

"They are all one and the same, they have to be presented as a complete package. We have to have the opportunity to look at it as a complete package. And this sort of segmentation and timing and the way they're handling it is just totally outrageous."

After releasing them, the DEC said they were only proposed regulations and they could be changed once the DEC is done with its environmental impact review. Slottje said that makes the whole process a farce.

"So why were we supposed to spend 30 days diligently working through this if you weren't, you're saying there's a decent chance you're not even going to look at them? That's an exercise in absurdity."

But still the public comment period will go on. Cornell professor Tony Ingraffea focused on the best ways to write a comment.

"Make sure that you have a well-reasoned rationale. It doesn't have to be one sentence, two sentences, it can be twenty pages, as long as it's reasoned and not over blown and then cite the literature."

Ingraffea approached this commenting period by reading the DEC's responses to past comments, which are posted on the agency's website. During last year's public comments, Ingraffea questioned whether adding a layer of casing to wells actually prevents leaks.

"And then I appended documents and sketches that show that even with a fourth string of casing, or a fifth string of casing, or a sixth string of casing, bad things have still happened. I documented them."

In their response, the DEC apparently merged his comment with others that dealt with well casing.

"And then they concluded in their response that since I hadn't provided scientific proof, even though I asked them for scientific proof, they stand by their statement."

But the speakers in Ithaca didn't portray submitting comments as a complete waste of time. The third speaker, Sandra Steingraber, is an author and founder of New Yorkers Against Fracking.

She's started a site, 30daysoffrackingregs.com, to facilitate anti-fracking comments.

"And I think the answer to why we should go on anyway and comment and play this game is because silence is consent."

Steingraber agrees that the process is deeply flawed. But she says opponents can keep slowing it down by flooding the capital with comments before the Jan. 11 deadline.

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