DEC Head: No ‘Timetable’ on Fracking Decision

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 1/2-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.

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 1/2-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 and other states. Thousands of wells have been drilled and fracked in the other Marcellus states and around the country.

Hundreds of gas-drilling opponents packed the hearing room and repeatedly interrupted the hearing with applause, groans, or hissing. Many held small signs with slogans such as “No shale gas,” although security guards made them leave larger placards outside.

Sandra Steingraber, a leader of New Yorkers Against Fracking, confronted Martens and demanded the environmental review and regulations be put on hold and a comprehensive health impact analysis be done by an independent investigator. She went to a seat after guards threatened to arrest her.

At the end of Martens’ testimony, the protesters stood and chanted “Not one well!” before heading to the Capitol for a rally. Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, joined the protesters to sign a “pledge of resistance” to fracking and discuss utilizing civil disobedience if shale gas development is permitted.