June 30, 2011

As Cuomo Seeks to Lift Fracking Moratorium, Cornell Will Continue Ban on Its Land

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Governor Andrew Cuomo will seek to end a de facto moratorium on the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing at natural gas wells, The New York Times reported Thursday, citing anonymous sources within his administration.

Cornell University, which owns 11,000 acres of natural gas-rich land, instituted its own moratorium on hydraulic fracturing — the practice of injecting chemicals deep underneath the ground at high pressures to break apart rocks and release natural gas— on its land in early 2010. This moratorium will not be lifted in the near future, according to Tommy Bruce, vice president for University communications.

“We have expectations when it comes to the stewardship of our land, and when new regulations are issued, before we have an opinion, we’d like to study them well,” he said. “I expect there will be some time before we have an opinion.”

The Times’ report came hours before the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation released details of its plan to regulate natural gas drilling in the state, which tightens restrictions on the process of hydraulic fracturing, also known as hydrofracking.

Hydrofracking will be allowed on private land with “rigorous and effective protection,” the Department of Conservation said in a statement Thursday. However, it will now ban the practice within the New York City and Syracuse watersheds, as well as state-owned land, including wildlife management areas.

The regulations are part of the DEC’s second draft of its Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, which tightens restrictions from a draft released in 2009. The full, 900-page version of the DEC’s proposed regulations will be released Friday.

The issue has inflamed environmental groups, who say hydrofracking will have devastating environmental consequences. However, proponents of the process say the practice is safe and say it has the potential to bring economic growth to the region.

“This report strikes the right balance between protecting our environment, watersheds and drinking water and promoting economic development,” DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens said in the statement.

The first draft of the DEC’s environmental impact statement, issued in 2009, would have allowed hydrofracking in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds. Additionally, drilling would have been allowed in primary aquifers, public forests, wildlife areas and parks. The DEC has reversed these allowances after receiving more than 13,000 public comments on the first draft.

The DEC said it will issue regulations to codify its recommendations into law. Other safeguards it will take to ensure that chemicals stay away from sources of drinking water include requiring disclosure of chemicals used, appointing an advisory panel to develop an implementation plan,  requiring gas wells to be located at least 500 feet away from private water wells, and banning permits from being issued in 100-year floodplains. The full summary of recommendations was posted on the DEC website.

Permits for hydraulic fracturing will not be issued immediately. The public will have the opportunity to comment for 60 days starting in August and no permits may be issued until the final draft of Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement is released.

Original Author: Juan Forrer