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The Fracking End-Game Begins

The Final Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (“SGEIS”) on High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (“HVHF”) is a document to be celebrated. It contains the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (“DEC”) finding that “there is currently insufficient scientific information to conclude that [HVHF] can be undertaken without posing unreasonable risk to public health.” Therefore, DEC will grant exactly what fracking activists have called for: a formal, legal prohibition on HVHF in New York.

The bulk of the Final SGEIS contains an analysis of the potential adverse environmental impacts of permitting HVHF in New York State. The document discusses potential air emissions, surface and groundwater contamination, soil contamination, and increases in traffic, noise, odors, and demand for housing and medical care, among many others. Remarkably, with respect to climate change, DEC found natural gas is a hindrance rather than a benefit: “Recent research demonstrates that low-cost natural gas suppresses investment in and use of clean energy alternatives (such as renewable solar and wind, or energy efficiency), because it makes those alternatives less cost competitive in comparison to fossil fuels.” Activists around the nation should take note of these findings and demand their states live up to the scientific standard set in New York.

Sometime after Memorial Day, DEC will issue a Findings Statement containing further reasoning behind the State’s decision to ban HVHF. There has been some concern about the longevity of the ban and DEC’s ability to later revise and reissue a new Findings Statement that would permit HVHF. Riverkeeper’s understanding is that state law requires DEC’s Findings Statement and determination on HVHF to be based on conclusions in the SGEIS, which clearly states that the best scientific research is insufficient to prove HVHF can be undertaken safely. Therefore, to reverse the ban, DEC would have to prepare a new environmental impact statement that fully reviews available science and reaches a different conclusion. In that case, thousands of interested citizens would have yet another chance to make their voices heard during a new round of public commenting. As the evidence is only mounting against the possibility that the oil and gas industry can or will operate HVHF wells safely for the health, environment and economy of New Yorkers, it will be extremely difficult for DEC to reverse the ban. In the off chance that DEC attempts to sidestep these procedural requirements, Riverkeeper and its many partner organizations would have firm grounds to challenge those actions in court.

There have also been threats about a potential oil and gas industry lawsuit seeking to annul the ban. However, the industry would have an extremely high bar to convince a court to overturn DEC’s action. Dissatisfaction with DEC’s choices is not redressable by a court so long as those choices have a rational basis in the record. Based on the unprecedented amount of information gathered by DEC regarding the potential adverse human health and environmental impacts of HVHF, there is little doubt that a ban is the only reasonable outcome.

Riverkeeper applauds Governor Cuomo, DEC, and the thousands of activists, scientists, doctors and engineers that have committed to basing New York’s HVHF decision on the best available science. We now look forward to DEC’s issuance of thorough Findings Statement based on that science.

The full SGEIS can be accessed here.

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