New York Governor Orders Moratorium on Fracking, But It's Only Sort of Good News


Daniel Foster via flickr

This weekend, Governor Paterson ordered a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, that will last until July. But it's only on certain kinds of drilling—horizontal wells as opposed to vertical wells—and it came after Paterson vetoed a bill that would have put all fracking on hold until May. At the same time, the Delaware River Basin Commission—of which Paterson is a member—also looks like it is moving forward on allowing fracking in the area, despite objections from various sources (including Paterson) and a lack of adequate scientific review of the potential consequences.The energy industry has welcomed the moratorium as a positive alternative to what it called a "flawed" piece of legislation. How do environmentalists feel? A little more cautious.

The New York Times reports concerns from Craig Michaels, the watershed program director for Riverkeeper about potential loopholes in the legislation:

"By carving out an exception for vertical wells that do not even exist yet, the governor did not save any jobs and did not assure the proper protection of water quality statewide," Mr. Michaels said in an e-mail. "The environmental community will be watching closely to assure that industry does not side-step environmental review by conducting an onslaught of vertical drilling and then converting those vertical wells to horizontal wells."

SmartPlanet explains the difference between horizontal and vertical drilling:

Horizontal "hydrofracking," or "fracking," is the more problematic of the two. After creating the typical vertical well, the process curves the drilling path horizontally to reach more gas from a single ground surface point. To release gas trapped within tight rock formations, drillers inject chemicals into the ground at high pressure, along with large amounts of water and sand. While horizontal wells can decrease the number of vertical wells, and the associated environmental footprint directly above, the leaching of often undisclosed chemicals into groundwater is the main concern, ecologically and for public health.

So while a moratorium is better than nothing at all, it's certainly no guarantee of a well-protected environment.

And the regulations being pushed by the Delaware River Basin Commission are not encouraging for people concerned about the risks of fracking. The NYC Department of Environmental Protection commented publicly on its disappointment in the proposed regulations. Despite a 90-day comment period, the DEP commissioner said in a press release, "pressure will undoubtedly mount to make the draft regulations final as soon as possible; and that pressure is not conducive to making a considered decision about hydrofracking in the Delaware River Basin based only on the best data and science about the potential impacts of hydrofracking on water quality and public health."

The Times reports that Paterson said in a letter that the regulations "could well conflict with the technical and regulatory protocols ultimately adopted in New York, causing confusion, duplication, redundant regulatory fee assessments, differing regulations in different locations and possible mismanagement."

More on fracking
Debate Over Fracking Rages Across the U.S.: Gas Drilling Deal Cancelled in Upstate New York, Drinking Water Undrinkable in Wyoming
Pennsylvania Township Bans Fracking Wastewater Disposal - Defies State Government
Natural Gas Drilling Harms Eyes, Causes Tumors, Destroys Air: The Ugly Truth Behind the 'Natural' Energy Source
Split Estate: How Fracking Takes Land Away From Its Owners

Tags: Chemicals | Energy | New York State | Pollution

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