On December 13, Governor David A. Paterson issued Executive Order No. 41, effectuating a moratorium on horizontal hydraulic fracturing drilling for natural gas (known as “fracking”) until at least July 1, 2011, but allowing vertical fracking. Two days earlier, the Governor vetoed legislation that would have imposed a moratorium on horizontal and vertical fracking until May 15, 2011.
The Governor’s Executive Order requires the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (“NYSDEC”) to finish its review of public comments submitted to a Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (“SGEIS”) analyzing the impacts of fracking, and make any necessary revisions. The NYSDEC must also publish a revised Draft SGEIS by June 1, 2011, accept public comments on that document for at least thirty days, and issue a report to the Governor identifying any regulatory conditions that must be included in fracking permits to protect public health and the environment.
In a press release issued December 11, Governor Paterson stated that he vetoed the legislation because, although it “was well intentioned, [it] would have a serious impact on our State if signed into law. Enacting this legislation would put people out of work – work that is permitted by [NYSDEC] and causes no demonstrated environmental harm, in order to effectuate a moratorium that is principally symbolic.”
Representatives of the oil and gas industry applauded Governor Paterson’s veto of the bill. While praising the Executive Order’s moratorium on horizontal fracking and its requirement of additional public review, some environmental groups expressed concern that the Order includes a loophole for vertical drilling by oil and gas companies. The Natural Resources Defense Counsel (“NRDC”) stated that oil and gas companies may drill vertical wells now, with the intention of converting them to horizontal wells later, which could potentially circumvent the on-going environmental review process. NRDC also expressed concern that the industry could drill a number of closely spaced vertical wells in lieu of one horizontal well, creating “significant additional surface disturbance and environmental impacts.”
NYSDEC reviewed over 14,000 comments to the Draft SGEIS over the course of several months. Because the Draft SGEIS must now be revised and re-released for public comment, which NYSDEC must review, the issuance of the Final SGEIS will most likely be delayed until at least the fall of 2011.
- Read more on hydraulic fracturing and the Marcellus Shale.