Gov. Andrew Cuomo has long vowed that extraction of natural gas reserves with hydraulic fracturing in New York State will not “come at the expense of human health or have adverse environmental impacts.” It will be hard to keep that promise if his administration moves too fast in permitting such drilling into deep shale formations. It must not rush the process of creating detailed regulations that will be crucial to reducing risks to the environment.
The fracturing technique involves blasting water, sand and chemicals into underground rock to tap natural gas. Drilling in the Marcellus Shale that runs through parts of New York could bring up to 37,000 jobs to communities upstate where people are desperate for work.
The state has put some environmentally critical areas off limits to this type of drilling, including the watersheds of Syracuse and New York City. But the latest draft of a state environmental study released last Wednesday by the Department of Environmental Conservation proposes to limit drilling within 1,000 feet of tunnels and aqueducts that deliver water to these cities — a far cry from the seven-mile buffer zone recommended by New York City.
A big question is how to store and treat the millions of gallons of wastewater laced with potentially toxic chemicals that are expelled in the process. Most New York sewage plants are not now equipped to process this effluent. There also needs to be some way of phasing in drilling permits, so that projects do not overwhelm rural communities. Close monitoring by state regulators will be critical.
The Cuomo administration plans to issue proposed regulations for drilling in October, which would be a premature move. The public will have until just Dec. 12 to comment on the draft environmental study. Only after the final study is completed should the administration begin to draw up the regulations.
Natural gas is an important energy source. But Governor Cuomo must move cautiously to make certain that tapping into this resource does not damage the lands and communities involved.