Correspondence between the state Department of Environmental Conservation and representatives of the natural-gas industry show the agency shared a draft version of drilling regulations prior to its public release, according to emails released by an environmental group late yesterday.
The Environmental Working Group, which obtained the emails through the state Freedom of Information Law, contends the DEC gave the industry a “jump start to influence” the agency’s rules for high-volume hydraulic fracturing, a controversial technique used with gas drilling. (The messages were first reported yesterday by the Times Union of Albany.)
The DEC is in the midst of a regulatory and environmental review of hydrofracking, with high-volume permits on hold in the meantime.
As detailed in the correspondence, the DEC in August provided Thomas West, an industry attorney and lobbyist, with two draft documents — one detailing a General Permit for stormwater runoff from gas-drilling sites, and another with draft regulations eventually proposed publicly in September. Not included, according to West, was the full 1,500 draft Environmental Impact Statement put together by the DEC, which was partially released in July and fully released in September.
DEC officials had asked industry groups to provide input on the cost the proposed regulations would have on gas companies, according to the emails.
In a phone interview this morning, West said sharing draft regulations with an affected industry is standard practice.
“In my 30-some years of practice, I have never seen a situation where the DEC has not reached out to industry with draft regulations in advance of any major rule-making,” West said this morning. “And in fact, sometimes that happens many times.”
Thomas Cluderay, Environmental Working Group’s assistant general counsel, said sharing the drafts gave the industry an unfair advantage. He particularly took issue with an email from West making “one last pitch” to remove a requirement requiring stormwater runoff from gas wells to be tested for radionuclides, and that environmental groups weren’t given a similar preview.
“This is like giving the drilling industry three laps around the track while everyone else was left waiting on the starting block,” Cluderay said in a statement. “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.”
In the Times Union article, a DEC spokeswoman cited the state Administrative Procedures Act, which requires the state to “assess the impacts of the regulatory action on the regulated entity.”
West — who represents companies such as Chesapeake Energy and Anschutz Exploration, and works closely with the Independent Oil & Gas Association — said the DEC has an obligation to “minimize the regulatory burden when they can.” Ultimately, he said, the industry didn’t provide comprehensive cost information because it wasn’t given enough time to react to the draft general permits.
“To try to make this into the case of industry getting another lap around the track is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard,” West said. “Industry was shut out of this process. We were given a limited opportunity to see what was going on because DEC very much needed cost information from us. We could not get them meaningful cost information on the short time schedule, and they made no meaningful changes to what they showed us.”
An unfair advantage? Standard operating procedure? You can decide for yourself by sifting through the emails, courtesy of the Environmental Working Group: