July 18, 2008, Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin: Drilling Regulation May Needed

Drilling regulation may be needed

Protecting water quality is crucial, says governor’s aid

By Tom Wilber • Press & Sun-Bulletin • July 18, 2008

State officials may summon more legal power to regulate drilling for natural gas under the Southern Tier, the governor’s top environmental adviser said Thursday night.

Judith Enck, deputy secretary for the environment, said protecting water quality is the top environmental concern as energy companies use a process called hydrofracturing to crack open bedrock and extract gas a mile deep in the ground. The process uses millions of gallons for each well and produces waste, raising questions about where the water comes from and how the waste is handled.

"The thing that stands out the most is the need to have a very comprehensive mechanism to protect ground water and surface water," she said. "We’re examining whether or not DEC has enough legal authority to do that. If they don’t, we will go to the state legislature and get that authority." She added that the agency would need resources to provide oversight.

Enck spoke before entering the auditorium of Greene High School, where more than 600 residents gathered to hear Department of Environmental Conservation officials talk about natural gas development.

Energy companies are leasing land throughout the Southern Tier to tap natural gas from the Marcellus Shale Formation. While the economic consequences are promising, fears persist over the environmental impact.

Gov. David Paterson is considering a controversial bill, passed by lawmakers, that would speed up well development by streamlining the permitting process. DEC officials say current permitting regulations are too cumbersome to deal with large horizontal wells needed to tap the Marcellus.

"He will only sign it if he is sure it’s in the public interest and won’t make the situation worse," Enck said. "The DEC is going back and doing its homework."

She told the audience that Paterson wants to ensure environmental questions are answered before drilling proceeds.

"I’m sure you will hold our feet to the fire and make sure it gets done," she said.

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