ALBANY -- The state comptroller wants to create a fund through which natural gas drillers would provide cash needed to clean up environmental problems, but he's stopping short of suggesting how much money might be needed.
The proposed law, announced Tuesday by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, would create state fees on petroleum wells. In addition, drillers would have to provide the state with financial guarantees large enough to cover the costs of cleanups.
The measure would apply to natural gas wells drilled through hydrofracking, a technique that relies on a high-pressure mix of chemicals, water and sand pumped deep underground to fracture gas-bearing rock formations. Such formations run from the western Catskills, through the Southern Tier and the Finger Lakes, and west nearly to Buffalo.
Critics warn the technique can harm air and drinking water, but the industry insists it is safe. Currently, the state requires drillers to provide a $5,000 guarantee per well to cover environmental pollution, a figure that has not changed for decades and that critics call woefully inadequate to pay for even the smallest cleanups.
DiNapoli's proposal does not set amounts for either financial guarantees or new well surcharges. His spokesman Eric Sumberg said those amounts would be up to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which has been crafting a new rule book for hydrofracking. Sumberg said DEC learned of the Comptroller's proposal on Monday.
The comptroller also proposes that the can have the ability to enter and inspect "any property or premises" as part of investigating "actual or suspected sources of contamination," as well as any violation of any rule or regulation that would be part of the law.
DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said the agency will "make the appropriate recommendations at the appropriate time." DEC is meeting Aug. 18 with a 12-member advisory panel to consider the proposed rules, as well as fees and revenues from hydrofracking.
DeSantis said the meeting will be closed to the public; because the group is advisory, its proceedings are exempt from the state Open Meetings Law. It will hold "informal" discussions with DEC Commissioner Joe Martens.
Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York, accused DiNapoli of jumping the gun before the state has completed its rulebook on well permits. He said DiNapoli failed to take into account the current $5,000 financial security requirement, as well as "existing environmental, criminal and civil law, which holds businesses accountable on many levels."
Conservation groups, which have warned of the risks of hydrofracking, welcomed the Comptroller's effort. The proposal "acknowledges the risks inherent in every phase of this industrial process, from trucking dangerous fracking fluid to drill sites to transporting resulting wastewater through our communities," according to a joint statement from Catskill Mountainkeeper, Environmental Advocates of New York, Natural Resources Defense Council, New York Public Interest Research Group, Riverkeeper, Inc. and other groups.
Rob Moore, executive director of Environmental Advocates and a member of the DEC advisory panel, said it would be difficult for DiNapoli to offer specific figures for well drilling fees and environmental cleanup guarantees.
"It is up to the governor's office to come up with those figures," said Moore. "Any good socioeconomic analysis will look at the cost of environmental remediation. There are plenty of examples in Pennsylvania to look it. Let's get the companies to disclose the cost of environmental problems there."
|< Prev||Next >|