New York Department of Environmental Conservation

Wed, 2013-02-13 12:16Steve Horn
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NY Fracking Decision Delayed by Cuomo Administration, Too Early to Pop Champagne Bottles

New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration - led by a potential 2016 Democratic Party nominee for president - has announced it won't achieve the late-Feb. deadline it set on whether or not it would green light shale gas drilling, known by most as “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing).

This announcement fell a day after DeSmogBlog released what “fracktivists” have now dubbed the “New York Fracking Scandal” documents, also housed on NYFrackingScandal.com.

These documents reveal that Cuomo's chief-of-staff, Larry Schwartz, has thousands of dollars in stock portfolio investments in oil and gas corporations with a financial stake in fracking proceeding in New York, a possible violation of the state's conflict-of-interest law and potentially a form of insider trading. The documents also detailed that lobbyists from these very same corporations have also had VIP meetings with Cuomo's top-level aides in the past several months, granted prime access to the Administration to influence-peddle in the run-up to the looming fracking decision. 

Yesterday, citing the necessity to “let the science determine the outcome,” NY Department of Health Commisioner (DOH) Nirav Shah wrote that the DOH “will require additional time to complete based on the complexity of the issues” in a letter to NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner, Joe Martens. 

Shah closed his letter by stating, “Whatever the ultimate decision on [fracking] going ahead, New Yorkers can be assured that it will be pursuant to a rigorous review that takes the time to examine the relevant health issues.”

Martens offered a brief response, concurring with Shah and writing that “the science, not emotion, will determine the outcome.”

Front-line fracktivists see the Administration's reprieve as a positive development - at least for now.

Mon, 2012-10-01 09:55Brendan DeMelle
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Cuomo Resets New York Fracking Review, "Consigning Fracking To Oblivion"

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced today that his administration is pushing the controversial decision on whether to allow fracking in the state back to square one. This encouraging move by Gov. Cuomo is sure to upset the oil industry, but it was the right thing to do given the enormous uncertainties surrounding fracking and unconventional energy development. 

The threats of water contamination, air pollution, climate-altering methane pollution and public health impacts posed enormous challenges for Gov. Cuomo, whom many see poised to make a run for the White House in 2016.

Had he rushed through approval of fracking, his political base - including tens of thousands of state residents vocally opposed to fracking - would likely question his ability to navigate even larger controversies and pressure from industry lobbyists.

While the fate of fracking in New York remains unsettled, The New York Times suggested today that Cuomo's decision to reset the regulatory review process has “created a sense in Albany that Mr. Cuomo is consigning fracking to oblivion.”

Wed, 2012-07-11 03:00Brendan DeMelle
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Science Trumped by Politics In Cuomo's NY Fracking Plans?

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said repeatedly that, in making the decision on whether to allow horizontal hydrofracking in New York State, he wants to rely on “science, and not emotion.” He is relying on the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to give him that science - but an array of documents suggest the Governor is being badly served.

Documents recently uncovered by Environmental Working Group shine a unique spotlight on privileged access granted to gas industry lobbyists by DEC officials with regards to fracking.

Some of the most important conversations revealed in those pages have little to do with debate over the science of fracking’s environmental footprint – and everything to do with the politics of ending New York’s temporary moratorium and allowing shale gas fracking to move forward in the state.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has gone to great lengths to present the course his state will take with regards to fracking as the opposite of Pennsylvania’s drill-baby-drill approach, which has left regulators scrambling to keep up and allowed a growing list of problems to emerge. By contrast, New York will make an incremental, guarded entry into fracking, Cuomo alleges. And his regulators will take an approach that rises above the fray of conflicts between industry and environmentalists.

We have a process. Let’s get the facts,” Governor Cuomo said last year, with regards to ending the state’s temporary moratorium on fracking. “Let the science and the facts make the determination, not emotion and not politics.”

But it’s increasingly clear that the process has actually been based on anything but science. Politics, legal considerations and economic concerns have instead predominated. Most tellingly, documents recently uncovered by Environmental Working Group show that industry representatives allowed access to drafts of the state’s permit plans, and used that information to lobby hard against testing for radioactivity in wastewater, for example.

But the documents also show a regular pattern of behind-the-scenes communication between the industry and regulators, at the same time as environmental advocates and others were struggling to be heard through public comments and similar official channels.

Wed, 2012-06-27 22:09Brendan DeMelle
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Fracking Industry Enjoyed Privileged Access To Controversial New York DEC Environmental Review

Documents obtained by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) show that bureaucrats within the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NY DEC) granted the oil and gas industry premature access to highly controversial draft regulations for shale gas fracking in the state. New York placed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for gas in order to evaluate the science on the risks posed to drinking water, air quality and the health of New York's citizens and the environment. 

The documents, obtained by EWG through New York's Freedom of Information Law, show that the fracking industry received an unfair advantage thanks to DEC officials who provided detailed summaries of their proposed rules exclusively to oil and gas industry representatives. This allowed industry a six-week head start to lobby state officials to weaken the proposed standards before the public was granted access to the plan.

Of particular concern, a lobbyist for scandal-ridden gas giant Chesapeake Energy used the exclusive access to the draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) to attempt to weaken the proposed rules restricting discharges of radioactive wastewater.

Thomas West, a prominent oil and gas industry lobbyist representing Chesapeake and other industry clients, made “one last pitch” – in an email to DEC Deputy Commissioner and General Counsel Steven Russo – to “reduce or eliminate radionuclide testing” of fluids that could migrate from drilling sites during storms, according to the documents.

NY DEC has previously found concentrations of cancer-causing radioactive pollution at shale gas drilling sites that exceeded safe drinking water standards by hundreds of times or more, according to EWG's report “Inside Track: Cuomo Team Gives Drillers Jump Start to Influence Fracking Rules.” 

“This is like giving the drilling industry three laps around the track while everyone else was left waiting on the starting block,” said Thomas Cluderay, EWG assistant general counsel. “The public needs to know whether New York regulators compromised the integrity of the state's drilling plan months ago, despite promises of keeping the process fair and transparent.”

Thu, 2012-06-14 12:22Steve Horn
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Was Andrew Cuomo's NY Fracking "Sacrifice Zone" Plan Hatched by NRDC?

Has New York Governor Andrew Cuomo just made the southern tier of the state a “sacrifice zone,” as alleged by award-winning author and “fracktivist,” Sandra Steingraber? Was it a plot hatched by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)?

The signs pointing to both possibilities are troublesome, to say the least.

The New York Times reported yesterday, via an unidentified insider at the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), that Cuomo intends to “limit [shale gas] 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.”

The Times article describes Cuomo's apparent plan:  

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration is pursuing a plan to limit the controversial drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing to portions of several struggling New York counties along the border with Pennsylvania, and to permit it only in communities that express support for the technology.

These counties, it turns out, are not only “struggling,” as The Times describes them, but in destitute levels of poverty. Two of the counties up for grabs for fracking include Steuben and Chemung, which, according to New York Department of Labor statistics, have unemployment rates hovering around 10 percent, among the highest in the state.

Support for dangerous industrial development is certainly much easier to garner during times of economic desperation. That much has been made clear throughout history in the United States, particularly in the arena of mountaintop removal for coal extraction in Appalachia. In other words, it's far easier to sell a rotten bill of goods (or in this case, contaminated water and air) to those mired in poverty. Is New York setting up to repeat this tragic cycle?

Tue, 2012-03-06 07:34Sharon Kelly
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Experts Air Serious Concerns Before New York Fracking Decision

James Thilman/Gothamist

Two recent court decisions  in New York state upheld the right of towns to use zoning laws to limit or even ban fracking within their borders. Other states and cities such as DallasMaryland, and North Carolina, are still trying to figure out whether, and if so how, to proceed with new drilling.

But the big decision that concerned citizens are watching is the one to be made by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo about his state’s moratorium. New York received more than 40,000 public comments on fracking and is plowing through them now.

The state has yet to publish those documents on the web, but DeSmogBlog has obtained many of them. Here is our initial shortlist of comments that offer the most important warnings and useful insights.

A Hidden Threat?

One of the most overlooked but potentially dangerous public health issues relating to unconventional gas drilling is radon. This odorless and radioactive gas comes up from the wells mixed with the gas that gets piped to consumers. Highly carcinogenic, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, just behind cigarette smoking, according to the EPA.

In his comments, Dr. Marvin Resnikoff, director of Radioactive Waste Management Associates, concludes that radon levels in the gas that will come from Marcellus and likely be delivered to nearly 12 million New York residents will be far higher than current levels. As a result, “the potential number of fatal lung cancer deaths due to radon in natural gas from the Marcellus shale range from 1,182 to 30,448” he writes.

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