Landowners hoping to sign leases with natural gas drillers say New York's proposed regulations put some land off-limits to drilling for no logical reason, under the guise of protecting water supplies.
The Joint Landowners Coalition of New York said in comments submitted to state regulators a day before Wednesday's deadline that the proposed 4,000-foot buffer around New York City's watershed extends to land on the other side of ridgelines where the water flows away from the city's watershed.
The group also said the regulations are weaker than their leases in some respects. While the Department of Environmental Conservation would allow open pits for storage of some fluids used in the drilling process, the coalition's leases would ban open pits and require steel tanks instead.
"We formed organizations to do the research, hire the experts, and find the most environmentally safe way it can be done," coalition president Dan Fitzsimmons said Wednesday. "We want to protect our land. Gas companies don't always have the best record."
Meanwhile, a group of state Senate Democrats joined anti-fracking organizations in Manhattan on Wednesday to again call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to withdraw the proposed guidelines and regulations. They urged legislators to pass a bill banning fracking, which stimulates gas production by injecting wells with chemical-laced water at high pressure. They claim it threatens water supplies.
DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said all comments submitted during the four-month comment period will be considered in the final draft of the agency's environmental review and regulations for gas drilling using hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."
"There has been an unprecedented response to this issue with tens of thousands of comments submitted," Martens said. "Public input is an important part of establishing responsible conditions for high-volume hydraulic fracturing as well as determining whether it can be done safely."
In its comments, the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York again voiced its objections, saying the proposed rules are excessively restrictive, inequitable and unjustified, making compliance so cumbersome and costly that energy companies will be discouraged from drilling in New York.
The industry group also said the rules would render half of the desirable drilling parcels unavailable for gas exploration because of the exclusion of the New York City and Syracuse watersheds and various setback requirements.
Landowners in the coalition also urged DEC to delete a section of its proposal that says local land use laws, regulations, plans and policies must be considered before a drilling permit will be issued.
"This section has motivated municipalities across New York to pass regulations relating to oil and gas development, thereby affecting the energy policy of the entire state," the landowners write.
A law passed in 1981 says state oil and gas regulations trump local ordinances. It was enacted to avoid a patchwork of local regulations, conflicts between municipal boundaries and well setbacks required under state law, safety concerns over untrained local staff going onto well sites, and exorbitant local taxation.
Numerous towns and cities across the Southern Tier have recently enacted moratoriums or bans on fracking.
Fitzsimmons said members of his coalition have traveled around the country to visit gas-drilling sites and talk to landowners and industry people. When there were reports of residential well contamination in Dimock, Pa., members of the coalition toured the area, talked to hydrologists, and pored over documents from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
"We've been holding educational meetings once a month for three years, bringing in specialists to talk to our group," Fitzsimmons said. "We know there are technologies out there to do this right."
In addition to a ban on open-pit storage of fluids, the landowners said, the state should set stricter requirements for protective casings around well bores, and require trucks hauling drilling waste to be equipped with GPS units to ensure that they stick to designated routes and make it easier to investigate complaints.