The review, which was released last month, leaves some environmental concerns unanswered. It offers few specific measures to protect New York City's watershed -- the unfiltered source of drinking water for nearly half the state's population. It says that wastewater will be treated by facilities in New York and Pennsylvania, but does not confirm whether those plants have the capacity to receive Marcellus shale wastewater or the technology to make that water safe. Critics also complain it does little to describe how several thousand new wells would cumulatively affect air and water quality, leaving the analysis to a per-well basis.
"The DEC's shocking refusal to assess cumulative impacts undermines the validity of the entire study and if implemented will lead to devastating, unanticipated outcomes," said Roger Downs, a conservation associate at the Sierra Club's Atlantic Chapter, which has called for a ban on drilling in New York despite the Sierra Club's general support for gas development in the United States.
The review does, however, deal directly with some of most critical problems that have led to contamination in other drilling states.
It suggests strict limits on the kind of open waste pits that have led to hundreds of cases of water contamination in other states; guarantees additional scientific review before drilling can happen near water supplies; and requires government inspectors to be more regularly involved at several stages of the drilling and fracturing processes. An environmental review, sometimes including public hearings, would be required each time a gas well is proposed within 150 feet of a private water well, stream or pond or within 300 feet of a reservoir. An additional environmental review would also be required before gas wells could be hydraulically fractured within 1,000 feet of water supply infrastructure, or within 2,000 feet of the surface. Private water wells within 1,000 feet of a gas well would be tested before drilling begins, to create a baseline for measuring any future pollution.
The review recommends requiring that chemical-laden wastewater from hydraulic fracturing be enclosed in steel tanks rather than pits at well sites, a practice that has been proven to reduce the risk of spills and prevent evaporation of chemicals into the air. Some waste could still be kept in open pits, but new rules would require that those pits be emptied after seven days, and that state inspectors check the pits and their liners before they can be used again.
The review also suggests strengthening structural requirements to prevent leaks from inside gas well pipes, and establishing an explicit chain of custody record to make sure drilling wastewater is delivered to treatment facilities that are capable of accepting it.
Yancey Roy, a spokesman for the DEC, declined to answer questions about the document. Instead he cited passages in the environmental review. New York's industry group, the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York State, did not return calls for comment. Two prominent new natural gas industry associations -- America's Natural Gas Alliance and Energy In Depth -- also declined to comment on New York's rulemaking process.
The draft review, called the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, updates the state's 1992 drilling study. It was ordered by Gov. David Paterson last summer after an investigation by ProPublica found that the state was not familiar with the chemical makeup of fracturing fluids and was unprepared to manage a boom of modern drilling in the Marcellus shale.