It is national news that the Susquehanna watershed– which, in NYS, is “ground zero” for proposed shale gas development– has suffered historic flooding over the past few weeks.  Our hearts go out to the people who have been so severely impacted by these unusual weather events.

While there have been some well pads flooded in Pennsylvania (see Scranton Times-Tribune ) Daniel Spadoni (dspadoni@pa.gov) reported on 9/11/11:

As of the end of the day Friday, we had not confirmed any overflowing pits or impoundments. There were rumors of such but nothing was confirmed.

However, the areas that had been designated as “100 year flood plains” in the maps used by the NYS DEC in its draft SGEIS (Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement) do not entirely contain the areas that were flooded by the storms Irene and Lee.

NYS Assembly Energy Chair Kevin Cahill has suggested that the timing of the SGEIS review should be slowed down, to allow for updating the flood maps, and also to ensure that the public in the areas that would be most impacted by drilling has a reasonable opportunity to participate in the public comment period.  That comment period is currently running– as many of the areas most impacted are official federal disaster areas.  Many lawmakers and environmental groups had advocated for a 180-day comment period, but the DEC granted only 90 days.

As per the interview done by The Capitol Pressroom with Assemblyman Cahill:

The Kingston Democrat told The Capitol Pressroom this morning that residents in the areas that will most likely be affected by the possible extraction of natural gas through what’s commonly known as hydrofracking are busy trying to cleanup from the seemingly endless flooding events. Reading a 1,000-plus page report could fall through the cracks.

“I think we need more time, particularly the communities designated as federal disaster areas,” he said. “We are really ground zero for the storm damage from last week and what’s continuing this week and today. We’re also ground zero for drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale shelf so I think we need more time. Right now my communities are focused and dedicated to bringing life back as close to normal as we can.”

The DEC has said that they are not willing to extend the public comment period, according to North Country Public Radio.  But, they may be willing to consider updating and amending the flood plain maps on the fly, while the public comment period is taking place:

“The definition of flood plains, as we know them from our maps are antiquated,” said Cahill. “We need to re- map our flood plains.”

DEC Spokeswoman Emily DeSantis responded in a non- committal manner to Cahill’s request, saying, “The recent extreme weather and flooding bring a host of issues to the forefront. Commissioner Martens is participating in the Storm and Flood Recovery Task Force that will look at how to address these issues including flood plains.”. She says the DEC will not be delaying the environmental review process, though, over the issue of remapping flood plains.

There is a clear rush or fast-tracking going on at DEC with regard to hydrofracking, with the Governor setting aggressive timelines for the SGEIS work to be completed and put out for public comment, rebuffing the requests for a 180-day public comment period, and taking the unprecedented step of beginning the rule-making process of the regulatory system concurrently with the public comment period for the SGEIS, and in advance of the adoption of a final GEIS.

One wonders what the rush is all about.  It could be related to the fact that support for the oil and gas industry erodes over time as people learn more about high-volume slick-water hydrofracking.  It could be an effort to get regulations in place before more realistic assessments of the potential gas to be recovered is documented, as per the recent USGS recalibration:

(Thanks to an enlightened internet dog for this graph– article is excellent, go read the whole thing).

Or, perhaps, Governor Cuomo’s timeline has to do with when he needs massive corporate donations from the oil and gas industry to begin funding a 2016 presidential run.

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