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Pete Grannis, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, made a wise decision late last year when he extended the public comment period on proposed rules to govern hydraulic drilling to tap into New York’s vast reserve of natural gas. Now, Mr. Grannis should act similarly, and accept the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s recommendation to further study the potential cumulative effects of hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale region, a vast formation that extends from New York — where it includes the New York City water shed, in the Catskills, and the state’s Southern Tier — into five other states. That’s a drilling technique using a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals to fracture gas-bearing rocks deep underground and bring the gas to the surface.
The state’s review process should be widened, too, to include not only the DEC but also the Health Department and the Public Service Commission.
The Paterson administration’s position is that hydraulic fracturing could be properly regulated and safely implemented as it searches for newer, cheaper and cleaner sources of energy.
Business and economic development groups, not surprisingly, are pushing hard for what they see as a $1.4 billion a year boon — including about $32 million a year in tax payments to a state that sorely needs them. On the other side are environmentalists and some government officials who fear, among other things, that such an aggressive form of drilling could leave large amounts of tainted water underground.
That, of course, is a particular concern when the New York City water supply, which serves 9 million people, is potentially at risk. So much so, in fact, that the city’s Department of Environmental Protection wants the state to abandon its consideration of the drilling project.
The rhetoric intensified last week with several New York City politicians citing even greater potential hazards and denouncing "Rambo-style" drilling.
In that context, the federal EPA’s recommendation for the DEC to broaden its analysis of the potential environmental and health effects of this kind of gas exploration seems like a reasonable middle ground. The EPA, remember, is calling for caution, especially in watershed areas — but not for a ban on drilling.
One point made by the EPA is particularly well worth heeding, namely that the state needs to examine if there’s a point at which there might be too many of the thousands of wells that have been proposed.
We’ve said this before. The gas in the Marcellus Shale and the energy it could mean isn’t going anywhere.
Mr. Grannis and other state officials would be shrewd to proceed with their rules only after the EPA could be more supportive of them.
The federal EPA urges further study of a proposed massive natural gas drilling project.
The benefits of waiting, and the costs of rushing, are too great to ignore.
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