No Quick Resolution on Shale Gas Moratorium in New York

Andrew Cuomo has promised the public that the Department of Environmental Conservation would release a final version of the permitting guidelines – in a document called the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement -- within months. Legislative leaders I spoke with this week have a much different outlook.

This week, Assembly Robert Sweeney told me he would be “a tad surprised” if the DEC released anything before the end of the year. As head of the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee and a key legislative liaison with the agency, he’s in a good position to know. Regardless of whatever rules the DEC finalizes, and when, Sweeney and other lawmakers are proposing their own ideas to oversee the industry. In Sweeney’s case, that would be a moratorium that will prevent permitting for at least another year, and a call for the State Department of Health to begin conducting it’s own exhaustive review on the impact of hydraulic fracturing.

“The more time that goes by, the more we find out about hydro-fracking, the more we find out what we don’t know,” he said. “This is something that is critically important to review, and if we are going to err, we are going to err on the side of caution.”

Today Senator Mark Grisanti, Sweeney’s Republican counterpart on the Senate’s Environmental Conservation Committee, released a plan calling for five measures for shale gas development to proceed in New York: prohibit public owned treatment works from accepting wastewater associated with natural gas production; ban the use of wastewater for road- and land-spreading; create a program to track oil and gas stronger than the tracking program proposed under the draft SGEIS; strengthen the notification requirements for spills; and create a public geographic information system to chart operations.

Grisanti, from Buffalo, represents an area that includes a city that has a large and vocal anti-fracking constituency. His proposal for restrictions, above and beyond what the DEC has proposed in its most recent draft of the SGEIS, does not include a moratorium or health impact assessment. As an up-and-coming young Republican, Grisanti walks a tricky political line between covering both the traditional pro-business, anti-regulatory party line, and addressing an anti-fracking movement that has become a political force to be reckoned with in his hometown and throughout the state. This proposal is not likely to do either, but it does show the willingness of lawmakers to legislate answers to New York’s pressing shale gas questions independently from the DEC’s stance and the governor’s timeline.

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