Opponents of hydraulic fracturing in New York State won two small, but important victories this week. On Wednesday, the Obama administration announced new regulations for controlling emissions from “fracking,” while the state on Thursday delayed its report on the environmental impact of the practice.
Hydraulic fracturing — a controversial practice in which chemicals are injected into the ground at high pressure to extract natural gas — has been outlawed in the state since 2008. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has said that he will only allow the practice if it can be done safely, The Sun reported on Feb. 22.
At a conference held by the Business Council of New York State in Albany on Thursday, Joe Martens, the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, said that the state does not have a timeline for issuing its decision on whether fracking will be allowed, according to the Associated Press. However, the review is likely to last through the summer, he said.
Martens and his staff must review and respond to 66,700 comments submitted on the DEC’s 1,500 page environmental impact study, a task that Martens described as “very long and tedious,” according to the AP.
"We hope over the course of the summer, perhaps we'll complete the process," Martens said.
The Obama administration has also sought to regulate fracking, citing the unknown health consequences of the chemicals that seep into groundwater.
On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency issued the first-ever national standards to control air pollution from gas wells employing fracking techniques, a decision that drew criticism from the oil and natural gas industry and a mixed reaction from environmental groups, according to the AP.
The EPA says the regulations, which well drillers have until 2015 to comply with, will control air pollution without hampering production. President Barack Obama strongly backed domestic natural gas exploration in his State of the Union speech on Jan. 24.
"By ensuring the capture of gases that were previously released to pollute our air and threaten our climate, these updated standards will protect our health, but also lead to more product for fuel suppliers to bring to market," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement.
About 25,000 wells a year are being fracked nationally, according to the AP.
The federal government, along with many states and local municipalities, have tried to regulate fracking, setting up a battle over who has jurisdiction over the controversial practice.
On Feb. 21, a New York State Supreme Court upheld the Town of Dryden’s ban on fracking, saying the ban falls within the authority of local governments to regulate municipal land use. A similar ban in the Town of Middlefield, near Cooperstown, N.Y., was upheld on Feb. 24. The City of Ithaca also banned fracking on land owned by city on Nov. 2.
At the Business Council conference in Albany on Thursday, lawyers involved in the cases said the decisions would be appealed.
Tom West, an attorney from Albany, said he will appeal both decision in a combined case before the mid-level Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court. He said the case will likely be heard in the fall and decided around November, according to the AP.
Linda Shaw, a lawyer representing Dryden, said she’s prepared to take the case to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, if necessary.