Wednesday November 28, 2012

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- New York environmental regulators want another three months to finalize new gas drilling rules so that a study of health impacts can be completed, an agency spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The deadline to finalize the regulations is Thursday, when the New York Department of Environmental Conservation will seek a 90-day extension, including a public comment period, DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said.

The extra time would allow Health Commissioner Nirav Shah and three national experts to review the health effects of shale gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing, she said.

The state has had a moratorium on shale gas development since the DEC started an environmental impact study in 2008. Under state law, proposed new regulations stemming from that study expire on Thursday.

Health and environmental groups on Tuesday repeated their call for a comprehensive and independent health impact analysis before high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is allowed in New York. DEC Commissioner Joe Martens rejected that request in September, saying Shah would review DEC’s own health impact assessment with input from outside experts. The DEC’s health review has not been made public.

The experts, named less than two weeks ago, are John Adgate, chairman of the Environmental and Occupational Health Department at the Colorado School of Public Health; Lynn Goldman, dean of George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services; and Richard Jackson, chairman of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of California Los Angeles’ Fielding School of Public Health.


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Goldman said a week ago that she hadn’t seen the state’s health assessment yet but that she was told to have her review of it finished by Dec. 3.

Fracking releases gas from rock by injecting a well with millions of gallons of chemically treated water. Regulators contend that overall, water and air pollution problems related to fracking are rare, but environmental groups and some scientists say there hasn’t been enough research on those issues.

On Tuesday, a group of health professionals led by David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany’s School of Public Health, launched a new initiative on the health risks of shale gas development. They urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo not to commit to a 90-day extension but instead allow the proposed regulations to expire and draft new ones based on a comprehensive health impact assessment.

Kate Sinding of the Natural Resources Defense Council said it would be a "monumental error" for DEC to file for a 90-day extension, which would require it to release revised proposed regulations within a couple of weeks, before any recommendations of the health experts could be incorporated. Instead, she said DEC should allow the regulations to expire and propose new ones after the health review is completed.

But Karen Moreau, executive director of the New York State Petroleum Council, said, "Given the Governor’s decision to conduct a health review on hydraulic fracturing, DEC’s move to extend by 90 days the implementation of regulations guiding this job-creating practice is a fair and appropriate step."

The Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, which represents about 77,000 landowners seeking leases with gas drillers, said the announcement about a 90-day extension was cause for optimism that "an end is in sight to the over 4 1/2-year long regulatory process for high-volume hydraulic fracturing."

A group of farmers, landowners, businesses, and gas industry representatives launched an ad campaign on Tuesday calling on state officials to wrap up the environmental impact study and let drilling begin.