NEW YORK—The pressure is heating up for lawmakers in Albany regarding their environmental impact statement on hydraulic fracturing. Otherwise known as fracking, hydraulic fracturing drills into the earth to extract natural gas and may lead to the contamination of drinking water.
On June 28, Environmental Working Group (EWG), a group that campaigns for public health and the environment, released a report claiming oil and gas companies were given exclusive access to shale and gas drilling regulations before the information was made public.
The disclosure of information to the companies allegedly occurred prior to the open public hearings, which closed at the beginning of this year after months of extensions. This led opponents to wonder what influence these meetings had on the proposed policy that is set to be decided on this fall.
New Yorkers against fracking lined the steps of City Hall Tuesday to call for a new and independent review regarding the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)’s drafted fracking regulations.
“We are calling on Gov. Cuomo to withdraw the DEC’s draft regulations,” said Eric Weltman of Food & Water Watch. “The DEC’s decision to provide the oil and gas industry lobbyist with unfair influence over the regulations has poisoned its authority to be objective in protecting New York from the dangers of fracking.”
Gov. Cuomo’s office did not return a request for comment by press time.
The DEC released a statement after the EWG report release saying the department routinely meets with all stakeholders in the fracking debate to gather the most accurate data to make an informed decision.
“Agencies cannot gather this data without holding meetings and engaging in other forms of communication with the regulated community prior to proposing the regulation,” according to the statement.
For those at the rally Tuesday, DEC’s statement was not enough.
State Sen. Liz Krueger, who wrote a letter to the DEC and the governor about this alleged conflict of interest, said, “How can we have a policy that lets an industry that hopes to benefit at our expense, have advance notice to redraft draft regulations before everyone else gets a peek?”
Thomas Cluderay, assistant general counsel for EWG said at the rally, “With so much evidence that regulators are shortchanging the science while giving the drilling industry favored treatment behind closed doors, we must ask tough questions about what hand drilling companies have had in this rule-making as it makes its way to the governor’s desk.”
According to Cluderay, EWG does not support a total ban of fracking in New York, but does believe it is an “inherently risky process and at a minimum should not be allowed near homes and sensitive areas such as drinking water supplies.”
Cluderay would like to see a new public hearing session, in addition to scrapping the current proposal, with a more transparent, fair, and science-based process.“We think if this process is potentially compromised at the start before the public got a bite of the apple to review these draft documents, it raises questions about what else was going on behind closed doors,” said Cluderay.
The public hearing session garnered 78,000 public comments, the most the DEC has seen on one issue, according to the Times Union Albany.
“We hope that lawmakers, journalists, and other public interest groups will ask the governor to hold his experts accountable to answer questions on whether their review process is living up to the standard he promised the people of New York,” said Cluderay.
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