NY DEC recommends drilling, bans hydrofracking in watersheds

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is recommending that the state open up the majority of the marcellus shale that lies under the state to gas drilling. The DEC says hydraulic fracturing (or hydrofracking), a controversial technique which is used to extract natural gas, should be allowed on private land as long as it is tightly controlled by the agency.

The following is from the DEC's report:

-High-volume fracturing would be prohibited in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds, including a buffer zone;

-Drilling would be prohibited within primary aquifers and within 500 feet of their boundaries;

-Surface drilling would be prohibited on state-owned land including parks, forest areas and wildlife management areas;

-High-volume fracturing will be permitted on privately held lands under rigorous and effective controls; and

-DEC will issue regulations to codify these recommendations into state law.

About 85% of the Marcellus Shale would be accessible to natural gas extraction under the recommendations.

Banning fracking in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds would be a reversal of a 2009 report which suggested permitting drilling in both areas. It would also create a larger buffer zone around the watersheds to protect the water.

"This report strikes the right balance between protecting our environment, watersheds, and drinking water and promoting economic development," said DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens.

In a move that may please some critics, the DEC plans to force gas drilling companies to disclose all products and chemicals used in the fracking process. They would also have to detail how they will deal with the water that is left over after the fracking process, called flowback water.

Still, some opponents are still concerned that hydrofracking process is too risky. "Hydrofracking as we've seen it in Pennsylvania changes rural landscapes into industrial contamination zones," said Jack Ramsdan who is against the process. "There is air pollution, light pollution, heavy truck traffic on rural roads. The impact is far reaching."

Governor Cuomo will recieve this DEC draft Friday. The final report is expected out in the next few weeks and will cover issues that were not addressed in the 2009 DEC impact study, including the socioeconomic and community impacts of high-volume fracturing, like the visual and noise impacts to a community.

The public will have an opportunity to comment on the more than 900 page report through August. The DEC received more than 13,000 comments after the 2009 report.

Original story:

New York environmental officials are expected to report this week on potential drilling for natural gas with hydraulic fracturing, an issue that has pitted environmental groups against energy companies in a debate over profits and threats to drinking water.

The Department of Environmental Conservation report to Gov. Andrew Cuomo is due Friday, the same day an executive order prohibiting "hydrofracking" expires. That order was issued last year by then-Gov. David Paterson to allow more time to review the technology, which involves blasting millions of gallons of chemical-laced water thousands of feet underground to crack rock and release trapped natural gas.

The New York Times is reporting that Cuomo will lift the ban, but will not allow drilling in the watersheds of Syracuse and New York City.

The DEC's supplemental environmental study and revised draft recommendations will be subject to further public comment and revisions, a process likely to take months.

The agency has emphasized that it will not issue drilling permits before that.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.