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Source: Rochester City Newspaper

DEC cuts could impact gas well monitoring


Posted: July 12, 2011
Originally Published: July 12, 2011

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has been hit with another round of staff cuts. This time, the layoffs occur as the state moves closer to permitting high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

State officials say that the loss of more than 40 DEC staff members won't hinder the department's ability to monitor gas wells. Agency Commissioner Joe Martens says the department won't approve well permits at a pace or level that exceeds what the staff can handle.

The state's spin may not match reality, however. The layoffs haven't touched the Division of Mineral Resources, but there have been questions whether it's adequately staffed to begin with. That section is responsible for reviewing, issuing, and enforcing gas well permits. Environmentalists who believe that the DEC as a whole is understaffed want to make sure that the division has enough staff to conduct frequent visits to drilling sites. Industry representatives want staffing levels that will ensure speedy permit approvals, and they've said they're willing to pay fees to support that.

The air and water quality divisions also have a vital role to play, and both lost staff in the recent layoffs. The Division of Water regulates storm water runoff from drilling sites, and it also monitors and regulates wastewater treatment plants. The air quality division would keep tabs on emissions from generators and compressors, as well as stray methane from wells.

"We feel that the other divisions are a key part of their enforcement capability," says Sarah Eckel, legislative and policy director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment.