DEC releases new draft gas drilling regulations

On Thursday afternoon, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation unveiled its latest set of proposed regulations to govern hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. The new proposed regulations replace an earlier set of draft regulations, issued September 7, 2011.

The latest move from the DEC extends the agency's timeline for finalizing its hydrofracking regulations for another 90 days. Public comment on the current draft will be accepted from December 12, 2012 through 5pm on January 11, 2013.

North Country Radio reports that there are a pair of studies that also need to be completed before drilling could begin:

The earliest the new rules could be completed would be late February. Environmental officials are also working on a separate, environmental impact statement that needs to be finished before fracking could begin.

And, Cuomo's health commissioner is working on a health impact review, with the help of three outside experts, that is also not yet completed.

Reporter Tom Wilber, author of Under The Surface: Fracking, Fortunes, and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale, writes on his blog devoted to natural gas news that even if the state hits all of the latest deadlines, the state Legislature could present another hurdle to drilling:

If the work is not completed within 90 days, the administration could still let the process expire and reopen the process for public comment. That scenario is not likely given, the administration’s efforts to meet yesterday’s deadline. The biggest wild card, however, remains with the Legislature, which has been under pressure from both drilling opponents and proponents. Leadership in the Democratic controlled Assembly have shown a willingness to ban fracking, while the Republican controlled Senate has been supportive of drilling. While Democrats still control the Assembly, control of the Senate following the recent election will be unknown for some time.

Reporter Jon Campbell, who has been following the unfolding issue of natural gas drilling closely for Gannett, writes that on first sight, it is difficult to see what has been changed in the latest set of regulations:

The DEC had originally faced a Thursday deadline to finalize its proposed hydrofracking regulations, which were originally unveiled in September 2011. But late Wednesday the agency filed for a 90-day extension, a move that requires a “substantially revised” set of proposals to be released and opened to comment for 30 days.

It wasn’t immediately clear what has been revised in the proposals. The previous set of proposals are no longer where they once were on the DEC website.

The new regulations come on the heels of a new lawsuit filed by the Lenape Resources gas company to challenge a local ban on drilling in the town of Avon -- the first such lawsuit in the state to name the DEC itself as a defendant.

The Watershed Post published an analysis of the DEC's 2011 regulations in July of 2011, shortly after the agency released a "draft of a draft" of the regulations for media, and two months before the official version was released. We plan to read through the latest draft to look for changes made in the most recent version, especially those that may have particular impact on the New York City watershed area and our five-county coverage area.