Thursday, June 30, 2011

DEC supports fracking bans in watersheds

11:08 PM, Jun. 30, 2011
Written byJon Campbell

ALBANY — In a surprise move Thursday, the state Department of Environmental Conservation issued a long-awaited summary of major, sweeping changes to its continuing review of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, a day before a full 900-page report is due to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The new recommendations include an outright ban of high-volume hydrofracking in the Syracuse and New York City watersheds and would prohibit drilling on the surface of state-owned land. Drilling would be banned within 500 feet of primary aquifers, which provide drinking water for most of the state’s urban centers.

The revised report would require gas wells to be at least 500 feet away from private water wells and would ban permits from being issued in 100-year floodplains.

Both advocates and opponents of hydrofracking said they were reviewing the DEC’s summary, but said they wanted to see the full, 900-page report before offering substantive praise or criticism.

If the department’s requests become final, 15 percent of the state’s portion of the Marcellus Shale formation, which stretches across the Southern Tier and a portion of the Hudson Valley, would be off limits to natural gas drillers. The western portion of the New York City water supply sits above the Marcellus in the Catskills region, including part of Ulster County.
“This report strikes the right balance between protecting our environment, watersheds, and drinking water and promoting economic development,” DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens said in a statement.

The impending release of the latest draft of the DEC document, called the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, is a major step toward tapping into the state’s massive natural gas reserves.

High-volume hydrofracking, a technique that employs a mix of water and chemicals to break up underground shale formations and unlock gas, has been on hold in New York until a final version of the DEC report — not the upcoming draft — is released.

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