DEC head: No 'timetable' on NY fracking decision

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 4, 2013 at 3:21 pm •  Published: February 4, 2013

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The state Department of Environmental Conservation has no projected date for finishing shale gas drilling rules, with completion dependent on recommendations from a health impact review, Commissioner Joe Martens said at a legislative budget hearing Monday.

"We do not have a timetable," Martens said when Sen. Tony Avella asked him when the 4 ½-year-old environmental impact review and related regulations will be completed. He said he expects to get a report from Health Commissioner Nirav Shah in "a few weeks."

If Shah recommends additional measures in the regulations, Martens said it will be difficult to meet a key deadline.

If regulations aren't finalized by Feb. 27, they'll expire and will have to be put out for public comment again, which would likely extend the drilling moratorium by months. Martens acknowledged that to meet the Feb. 27 deadline, the massive environmental impact review on which the regulations are based must be published by Feb. 13.

Avella, author of a bill to prohibit gas drilling using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, asked Martens whether there was a separate health impact study being reviewed by Shah and a panel of outside experts. Martens said they were reviewing the DEC's entire environmental study, which he said runs "several thousand pages" and outlines measures to protect human health as well as the environment.

In response to a question, Martens revealed that DEC hired consultants to review potential seismic impacts, such as earthquakes, related to shale gas development. He said their findings are included in the latest revision of the environmental impact study.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and DEC are expected to decide soon whether to lift the 4 ½-year-old moratorium on fracking, which has made vast quantities of natural gas accessible to drillers who use the technology to crack gas-rich rock about a mile underground in the Marcellus Shale, which underlies southern New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Thousands of wells have been drilled and fracked in the other Marcellus states and around the country.

Martens also answered questions on other issues, such as recovery from Superstorm Sandy. Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to use $400 million in federal funding to buy beachfront homes in New York City and Long Island. Martens said the houses would be razed and the land left as open space, allowing dunes, marshlands and other natural barriers to be built as protection against future storms.

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