An Update on Hydrofracturing
If it seems we’ve forgotten about the hydrofracturing debate in New York, don’t dismay—we haven’t! It just so happens that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), headed by Commissioner Joe Martens, did not expect the astounding number of comments provoked by the Environmental Impact Statement (sGEIS). Over 60,000 comments were submitted to the NYSDEC before the January 11, 2012 deadline. There have now been conflicting reports regarding the time it will take to review the comments; Commissioner Martens has stated it will take months, while Gov. Cuomo estimates it will take only one month.
Reform Jewish Voice of New York State (RJV) submitted comments to the NYSDEC that call upon our obligation to “till and tend” the land and the Talmudic concept of Bal Tashchit, do not destroy. RJV’s comments urge the NYSDEC to embrace our collective responsibility to ensure a safe and clean world for ourselves and our children. Until hydrofracturing is proven safe and a clear and a complete evaluation of “societal costs and potential long-term environmental damage” has been conducted, RJV supports the current moratorium.
Not only did RJV express its position on the situation unfolding in New York as an organization, but members of our Steering Committee did as well. Joyce Herman, of Temple Sinai in Rochester, testified at one of four public hearings held by the NYSDEC and spoke on the need to ensure the preservation of environmentally fragile ecosystems in the state, such as the Finger Lakes and New York’s growing wine country. Joyce has remained outspoken on this issue: Along with a fellow member of the RJV Steering Committee, Joel Elliott of Temple B’rith Kodesh in Rochester, she co-authored a letter to the editor that was published in the Rochester City Newspaper.
Since the comment deadline passed, hydrofracturing news died down significantly—that is until Gov. Cuomo released his proposed 2012-2013 budget. His proposed budget includes no funds for hydrofracturing in any capacity. Also in the news: Commissioner Martens spoke at a state Senate budget hearing this week and said while it would be months until regulations and reports are due, there could be an “extremely limited number” of permits issued this year. He also estimated that the NYDEC will need to hire an additional 140 employees to oversee hydrofracturing. Gov. Cuomo later stated that a fee would be imposed to pay for new staff, even though there is no money set aside for it in his proposed budget.
A final note on hydrofracturing comes courtesy of Pennsylvania and Texas, both of which already allow hydrofracturing. The Pennsylvania legislature has reached a compromise on legislation that would charge companies an “impact fee” for drilling for natural gas in the state. The legislation now heads to Gov. Corbett, who has previously stated that he would sign this legislation. In Texas, drilling companies are now required to disclose many of the chemicals used in hydrofracturing. This requirement went into effect February 1, 2012.
What, if any, impact the hydrofracturing developments in Pennsylvania and Texas will have on New York remains to be seen. In his State of the Union, President Obama made a supportive mention to the benefits of drilling for natural gas. Reform Jewish Voice remains committed to ensuring a safe and clean environment for all New Yorkers and implores the NYSDEC to consider public health and safety concerns as it evaluates the public comments and considers hydrofracturing regulations.