The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency formally weighed in on New York’s proposed rules for hydraulic fracturing for natural gas late Wednesday night, providing a meticulous, line-by-line critique of the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s 1,500-page review.
But while the EPA’s analysis of the document includes dozens of recommendations to strengthen the DEC’s proposals, it appears generally favorable to the state agency’s review, with EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck (pictured) offering encouragement in a short cover letter.
“We appreciate the NYSDEC’s efforts on this environmental review of the potential environmental impacts associated with horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing,” Enck wrote. “New York has demonstrated leadership with this issue and will help set the pace for improved safeguards across the country.”
(Before being appointed to her EPA post in 2009, Enck served as deputy secretary for the environment under former Govs. Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson. She was in the governor’s office when the DEC began its review in 2008.)
The sentiment behind the EPA’s Wednesday comments stand in contrast to its 2009 comments submitted to the DEC on a previous set of hydrofracking proposals, when the federal agency wrote a highly critical cover letter to then-DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis. Then, the EPA wrote that it “believes that the analysis and discussion of cumulative and indirect impacts in the (DEC review) need to be significantly expanded.”
That’s not to say the EPA doesn’t have concerns about the DEC’s current draft. Among dozens of areas flagged by the federal agency, the EPA recommends expanding a ban on high-volume hydrofracking in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds to include all forms of gas drilling.
The EPA also found several areas of the DEC’s plan lacks detail, including a pledge by the state to limit the number of gas-drilling permits to the amount state regulators can handle.
“The NYSDEC asserts that it will match the rate of permit issuance to the availability of personnel who will review those permits, inspect well pads, oversee well construction, waste disposal, and enforce other permit conditions and regulations,” the EPA wrote. “However, with the multitude of requirements and best management practices that the revised (DEC study) calls for – much of which provide protection for water resources – it is not made clear in the revised (DEC study) how NYSDEC plans to do this, given the current state of the economy.”
Here’s the EPA’s formal comments on the DEC’s environmental impact statement: