The opportunity to make a decision on whether and where hydrofracking will take place in NY has arguably always been mostly Governor Cuomo’s opportunity– and responsibility.

In this morning’s NY Times an article quotes an unnamed senior official at the Department of Environmental Conservation, on a “plan” the administration is considering to limit hydrofracking to a five-county area in the Southern Tier. The senior official, and others in the administration with knowledge about this, spoke with the Times anonymously, as the subject is still under discussion within the administration. This is a classic “trial balloon,” used by politicians to judge reaction and public opinion.

Times reporter Danny Hakim reports that the plan

would limit drilling to the deepest areas of the Marcellus Shale rock formation, at least for the next several years, in an effort to reduce the risk of groundwater contamination.

Even within that southwest New York region — primarily Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Steuben and Tioga Counties — drilling would be permitted only in towns that agree to it, and would be banned in Catskill Park, aquifers and nationally designated historic districts.

This morning, Susan Arbetter discussed this trial balloon with Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb on her radio show, Capitol Pressroom. Kolb said that he favored it. She also interviewed Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, one of the legislators who responded rapidly to the trial balloon. The Albany Times Union’s Capitol Confidential blog quotes Assemblywoman Lifton’s press release:

Seventy state legislators from both houses and both parties are calling on Governor Cuomo to resolve six critical issues before permitting Marcellus Shale horizontal hydraulic fracturing to begin in New York State. These issues are not adequately addressed by the Revised Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) that the New York Department of Environmental Conservation is currently reviewing pursuant to Executive Order No. 41.
“It is clear that the SGEIS, as we have seen it, insufficiently addresses the effects that this heavy industry could have on New York families,” said Assemblywoman Lifton (D/WF 125), who authored and spearheaded the letter. “Until these critical issues are resolved, we must send the SGEIS back to the drawing board. This document may be our last line of defense from heavy industry in our backyards — we only get one chance at this.”
The six issues the letter highlights are as follows:
1) Requiring Environmental Quality Review regarding Hydraulic Fracturing utilizing Liquid Propane Gas, which may soon be used in Tioga County without having been addressed in any SEQR Environmental Impact Statement.
2) Requiring an environmental quality report for all New York State mortgage lending programs. Lenders and local governments around the State have voiced concerns about the impact of fracking on property values and tax revenue generation.
3) Rescinding New York’s Natural Gas Hazardous Waste Regulatory Exemption, which, despite the highly-toxic waste that hydrofracking produces, allows drilling fluids to be exempt from waste regulations.
4) Banning “recycling” of natural gas drilling wastewater that exceeds GA Effluent Limitations. Under current law, gas drilling wastewater is allowed to be injected into wells to “facilitate oil, gas, salt, or geothermal resources.” This water can contaminate public drinking supplies and has recently been associated with causing earthquakes in Ohio
5) Banning natural gas drilling wastewater landspreading and dumping in municipal wastewater treatment plants. Currently, contaminated wastewater is used to de-ice and stabilize roads and roadbeds. In addition, it is often dumped in municipal wastewater plants that were not constructed to remove the toxic metals, petroleum constituents or radionuclide contained in wastewater.
6) Requiring an independent health study of the effects of HVHF, which the current SGEIS lacks. This has been called for by numerous physicians and the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The letter concludes that the SGEIS does not fulfill the legal requirements set forth by the Environmental Quality Review Act and calls for a continued moratorium until these concerns have been addressed. The letter, sent to the Governor today, is attached.

The Times Union also quotes Manhattan Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell, far from the Southern Tier counties that Assemblywoman Lifton represents: “The people in my district are adamantly opposed to this process moving ahead.”

With the end of the legislative session just six days away, and no bills on hydrofracking appearing to be moving, the Governor and the legislators will be looking very closely at how their constituents react.