Ex-DEC Chief: Length of fracking review “seems to be excessive,” but precaution necessary

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The state’s former top environmental regulator on Monday said the length of New York’s health review of hydrofracking “seems to be excessive,” but emphasized the importance of ensuring the protection of public water before moving forward.

grollgrannisPete Grannis, former commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said he’s “surprised it has taken this long” to come to a decision on whether to allow large-scale fracking in New York, which was first put on hold when Grannis (pictured) headed the DEC in 2008.

But the process is a complicated one, Grannis said, and the state has been right to exercise caution.

“The fact is we could have started permitting hydrofracking from Day 1 and decided not to,” Grannis said of the 2008 decision to launch a lengthy environmental review that continues to this day. “I’m surprised it has taken this long, but it’s a big, complicated process.”

He continued: “For me, as an environmental advocate, it’s really the ultimate application of the precautionary principle. We are actually able to look and find out, listen, learn and prepare before we move ahead. Almost never does that happen in the environmental community. This is an extraordinary exercise that the agency is going through. I am surprised at how long it has taken.”

Now the state’s first deputy comptroller, Grannis spoke to Gannett’s Albany Bureau following a media briefing by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli on Tuesday.

A decision on fracking and shale-gas drilling in New York now awaits the completion of an analysis by state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah — essentially a review of the DEC’s work. The state has been sued by the bankruptcy trustee of Norse Energy, who claims the delay in deciding has been arbitrary and political.

Grannis, who was fired by then-Gov. David Paterson in 2010 after a memo criticizing staff cuts was made public, said the DEC has “relied” on the Department of Health for assistance since the environmental review was launched.

He said he wasn’t surprised that the health department’s role has been expanded. Shah’s review was first announced in September 2012, and he has given no indication when it may be completed.

“Not with the role, but the length of time it has taken seems to be excessive,” Grannis said. “But again, if the department hasn’t finished it’s analysis — the goal is to make sure what ever happens happens in a way that protects the people’s water supply. That’s the main goal of the health department’s review. It has taken a long time.”

(AP file photo by Mike Groll)

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  1. Well, perhaps Grannis can also testify before the court on Mar 12 for the mandamus hearing filed by Tom West on behalf of Norse energy about why it is taking so long. NY is not open for business.

  2. It is a frghtening thought that they could have started permitting fracking with no SGEIS. It is still frightening that potentially they could adopt a flawed SGEIS and permit without having enforceable regulations in place. Tons of comments were sent to DEC toward the end of 2011 and again a year later. We have yet to see if DEC has or will correct the weaknesses in the proposed SGEIS and whether they will write firm regulations to back it up. Of course, if the decision is not to allow any HVHF then maybe we don’t have to worry about it.

  3. How can they allow fracking when the SGEIS is now outdated and needs to be totally revamped? Then again thank goodness the time has tested how bad fracking is. Just look at what Texas is going through right now and they don’t want it anymore. WHY? There is a drought in Texas and each well needs up to 7 million gallons of water. So logic would be to halt fracking if we intend on still using water to stay alive.

  4. @Hugh, IF a company wanted a permit to drill, pre-SGEIS and pre-moratorium, I believe they could have done their own EIS and submitted it to the DEC along with all the other required documentation. The SGEIS is simply a supplement to the existing GEIS that covers drilling and hydraulic fracturing, and was required due to the greater volumes of water, etc. However, with a moratorium in place, it’s sort of a moot point.

    @jao1, thanks to the wonderful transparency Princess Andrew the Ditherer promised but has so far lied about, we don’t know if the SGES is out of date, has been kept alive by the real experts in the DEC, or what. The Texas drought is not terribly relevant to New York; most of the water use here is controlled by the SRBC, who has the power to stop withdrawals should water levels decline. And with more water being recycled and reused, the heavy water demands are being mitigated to some degree – it is potentially cheaper to clean up the flowback/produced water than to pay to transport it elsewhere and inject it:
    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-24/fracking-water-to-cup-technology-plugged-by-oasys-pilot.html

  5. Grannis has not been keeping up with the research on HVHF if he thinks that water protection is still the main emphasis. While water remains an important factor, the study of the air and atmospheric impacts has been increasing, with evidence of increased cancer risk, increased respiratory risk, increased risk to infants whose mothers live near HVHF sites, plus the impacts of global warming. The entire economic impact section of the SGEIS has been discredited for not examining negative economic impacts and for totally mischaracterizing expected amount and length of output from Marcellus wells; we now know that they deplete much more quickly than the projections used and that only sweet spots of a certain thickness, depth, and thermal maturity will yield high outputs. The only wonder about the length of time is that the decision has not yet been reached to permanently refuse to permit HVHF. The data clearly show that the risks are high and not worth taking.

  6. Bill, technically you are correct and I actually have a brief case pretty much full of the GEIS which, by the way, was never followed with regulations. Submitting an EIS for one well or one each for every proposed well would have been a very time consuming and expensive task. Under SEQRA it would also allow for public comment. A company with a compliant DEC might have managed to pull it off, but not any more.

    As to your other comment, how would one clean up flowback if it happened to get into a large sole source aquifer that serves several thousand people?

  7. When the evidence mounts against the position the Governor and his financial backers want to advance, what choice is there but to delay?

  8. Patricia Goldsmith on

    We have seen a lot of important information come to light during the time the DEC has taken on investigation. We have had confirmation that drilling fracking waste wells can cause earthquake swarms. We have had confirmation that water in four states has been contaminated. We have seen evidence of high levels of radioactivity in fracking wastewater. Above all, we have learned that fracking releases much higher amounts of methane than previously realized, and methane is an incredibly potent greenhouse gas. If we are to manage climate change, which means realizing a couple of degrees of temperature rise are already locked in, we must stop extracting carbon. This is life and death.

  9. Patricia you are allowed to list your “NON FRACKING WEBSITE souces of iinformation… We are tired of self made scince reports by the anti camp so please state your sources on this accusation which is very mileading

  10. Barrack Obama once againn touted America’s natural gas resource as the fuel that has made America a nation second to none in reducing our carbon footprint. Please share this post so all may see that the misinformation about the choice of coal over gas as a cleaner choice is nothing more then another lie produced by the anti progressives and their well funded Park Foundation Employees THE SPEECH REFERS TO NATURAL GAS NO LESS THEN 6 TIMES… HERE IT IS WORD FOR WORD:::::

    President Obama – And nowhere is the promise of innovation greater than in American-made energy. Over the last three years, we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I’m directing my administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources. (Applause.) Right now — right now — American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years. That’s right — eight years. Not only that — last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past 16 years. (Applause.)

    But with only 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves, oil isn’t enough. This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy. (Applause.) A strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs.

    We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years. (Applause.) And my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy. Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade. And I’m requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use. (Applause.) Because America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.

    The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy. (Applause.) And by the way, it was public research dollars, over the course of 30 years, that helped develop the technologies to extract all this natural gas out of shale rock –- reminding us that government support is critical in helping businesses get new energy ideas off the ground. (Applause.)

    Now, what’s true for natural gas is just as true for clean energy. In three years, our partnership with the private sector has already positioned America to be the world’s leading manufacturer of high-tech batteries. Because of federal investments, renewable energy use has nearly doubled, and thousands of Americans have jobs because of it.

  11. Patricia’s point is that the web site purports to list meaningful references but totally avoids information that shows the harmful effects of fracking, at least as it is being done now.

    And, NY Citizen, the overwhelming majority of those of us who have concerns about fracking do not work for the Park Foundation or for any other environmental organization. In fact, we are spending our own funds to travel to hearings, testify before EPA and DEC, and to protest.

  12. No Hugh you don’t all get a paycheck I agree… but you are a by-product of those who do thiving and growing on the lies which feed the delay.