ALBANY - The Environmental Protection Agency said New York regulators have much more work to do on proposed regulations that have already held up gas drilling in the state's part of the massive Marcellus Shale formation for more than a year.
The EPA submitted its comments Wednesday on the state Department of Environmental Conservation's 809-page draft document that sets rules for gas drilling using high-volume hydraulic fracturing. The controversial technique, which injects chemical-laced water into deep horizontal wells to release gas from shale, has raised concerns about potential contamination of drinking water.
The EPA said the draft, released at the end of September for a public comment period ending Dec. 31, needs to significantly expand analysis of cumulative impacts of gas exploration and place greater emphasis on potential health effects.
In addition, the EPA expressed “serious reservations” about whether gas drilling should be allowed in the New York City watershed in southeastern New York. Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration has asked the DEC to ban drilling in the watershed, which provides drinking water for 9 million people.
The EPA recommended that the state Health Department, which enforces the Safe Drinking Water Act, and Public Service Commission, which oversees natural gas pipelines, collaborate with the DEC on the regulatory document.
The agency said it was particularly concerned about issues involving water supply, water quality, wastewater treatment, air quality, and management of natural radioactive materials disturbed during drilling.
The state has received more than 9,600 public comments on the document, which is called a draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement. Gov. David Paterson in July 2008 directed the DEC to draft the document as a supplement to its 1992 regulations on oil and gas drilling.
More than two dozen national, statewide and local environmental groups sent a letter to Paterson earlier this month asking him to scrap the proposed rules and impose a yearlong drilling moratorium while new rules are drafted.
They said the proposal fails to address the cumulative impact of thousands of gas wells.
A coalition of 16 business and economic development groups, led by the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York, delivered a letter this week to Paterson urging him to remain committed to his draft State Energy Plan, which supports the expansion of natural gas exploration.
“The extremely stringent requirements” proposed by the DEC ensure that gas will be extracted safely, the coalition said.
The coalition estimates that Marcellus Shale development in New York will generate more than $1.4 billion in annual economic impact, including more than $100 million in landowner lease payments and $32 million in state tax revenue.
On Monday, a group of New York congressmen, state lawmakers, New York City officials and environmental advocates will hold a news conference in Manhattan to call on Paterson to withdraw the draft impact statement and develop a new one.
The environmental impact assessment process requires that public comments be reviewed and addressed in the final document.
“I am very appreciative that so many individuals and organizations have submitted comments to DEC,” state Environmental Commissioner Pete Grannis said in a statement on Wednesday. “It is clear that the public has been fully engaged, and we have much hard work ahead as we carefully consider the comments and move the process along.”
The Marcellus Shale formation runs through parts of West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. It underlies about 18,700 square miles in southern New York, including the city's entire 1,585-square-mile watershed west of the Hudson River.