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CCE IN THE NEWS

Source: The Times Leader

NY regulators: Marcellus could generate 55K jobs

BY MARY ESCH

Posted: September 8, 2011
Originally Published: September 7, 2011

(AP)

Natural gas production in New York's part of the Marcellus Shale could bring nearly 25,000 full time drilling-related jobs and more than 29,000 jobs in other parts of the economy, according to an environmental and economic impact study released Wednesday by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

In announcing the study, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said the agency will propose regulations for high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," of gas wells in early October. Environmental groups have urged the agency to enact regulations, rather than permitting guidelines, to give the rules the force of law.

The study proposes guidelines to protect the environment, human health and communities from potential harm related to gas production using fracking, which injects wells with millions of gallons of chemically-treated water and sand a mile underground to fracture the shale and release trapped gas.

Martens said the state's priority is to protect drinking water and the environment while allowing natural gas development to proceed.

"This will enable New York's economy to benefit from this resource and the job opportunities that development is expected to bring," Martens said.

Permitting for new gas wells in the lucrative Marcellus Shale region, which extends from southern New York through parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, has been on hold in New York since the environmental study was begun in 2008. Martens said no permits will be issued until the study is finalized, likely in early 2012.

DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said the agency hopes to have its new regulations completed by the time the study is finalized, but "we're not sure that will happen."

Across the border in Pennsylvania, nearly 4,000 wells have been drilled in the past few years and tens of thousands more are planned. New York's impact study includes a section called "What we learned from Pennsylvania," which describes well site accidents and measures DEC will require to prevent similar problems.

A public comment period on the environmental impact study began Wednesday and will conclude Dec. 12. A comment period on proposed regulations will begin in early October and end Dec. 12. DEC said it will schedule four public hearings on the study and regulations in November.

The 97-day comment period on the 1,537-page document is longer than the 60 days DEC initially proposed when it released part of the study in July, but shorter than the 180 days demanded by environmental groups and some politicians.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer praised the decision to hold one of the public hearings in New York City. The city has a keen interest in the issue because the Marcellus Shale underlies the upstate reservoirs and underground aqueducts that provide the city's unfiltered water supply. The DEC has proposed a ban on drilling in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds.

"The long record of leaks, spills, contaminations and explosions related to horizontal hydraulic fracturing in nearly a dozen different states speaks for itself," Stringer said. "This type of drilling is risky business."

American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard criticized the DEC for putting the watersheds and state-owned parks and forests off-limits to gas development, saying development can be done safely and responsibly in any area.

Environmental groups criticized the environmental study, saying it includes new assessments of traffic, noise, and visual impacts, but doesn't include estimates of health impacts related to increased industrial activity. They also questioned DEC's ability to fully review permit applications and enforce regulations because of repeated cuts in staffing, and renewed calls for a 180-day comment period.

"Why is Governor Cuomo intent on fast-tracking a process the DEC is not prepared to regulate?" said Sarah Eckel of Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

On the other hand, drillers have complained that the Cuomo administration is dragging its feet in completing a review that has been three years in the making.

Rep. Tom Reed, whose district is in the Marcellus Shale region, spoke on a panel at a two-day industry conference in Philadelphia on Wednesday. He urged drillers to come to his state, saying, "New York is going to be open, it's going to be open sooner than later."

The study includes a chapter on economic and community impacts based on a study DEC commissioned from Buffalo-based Ecology & Environment. It says new gas development in New York could create 6,198 to 24,795 full-time industry-related jobs, depending on how aggressively energy companies drill in the state. The lower number assumes 413 wells annually; the higher assumes 1,652.

Wages generated by the industry and other jobs would range from $621 million to $2.5 billion, according to the economic study.

Safety and community impact measures proposed in the study include:

_Drillers must fully disclose all chemicals used in fracking.

_Wastewater would be subject to monitoring similar to that required for medical waste.

_Drillers must produce detailed transportation plans outlining the number of trucks, routes, timing, and an assessment of road conditions.

_Well sites must be designed to limit noise and visual impacts.

Comments will be accepted by mail or through an online form ( http://1.usa.gov/pFZCRp), not by phone, fax or email, the agency said.

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Associated Press editor Nancy Albritton contributed to this report from Philadelphia.

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DEC's environmental study: http://www.dec.ny.gov/energy/75370.html