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State Proposes Lifting Ban on Hydrofracking Away from City's Water Supply

By DNAinfo Staff on June 30, 2011 2:34pm  | Updated on July 1, 2011 6:35am

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MANHATTAN — The Cuomo administration is seeking to lift a ban on hydrofracking, but away from the city's water source and off of state land.

Hydraulic fracturing, or "hydrofracking" as it is commonly known, is a controversial process that pumps water and chemicals into bedrock to release buried natural gas.

Advocates say the drilling will open up untapped sources of fuel and revenue for the state, and have pushed to use hydrofracking to mine New York's section of the Marcellus Shale, where the city gets its drinking water.

But critics, including actor Mark Ruffalo, have long charged the process has potentially devastating consequences if chemicals seep into the drinking water.

In a long-awaited Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) to be released Friday, the state Department of Environmental Protection will recommend that fracking be allowed, but with strict limitations.

Fracking would be banned in and around the city's watershed as well as within 500 feet of state aquifers and on state land, including parks, forests and wildlife areas — a significant reversal from its 2009 position.

Approximately 85 percent of the Marcellus Shale would still be accessible to extraction, the state said.

"This report strikes the right balance between protecting our environment, watersheds, and drinking water and promoting economic development,” DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens said in a statement ahead of the release.

The plan will now go through 60 day review period that will begin in August. No permits will be issued until a final recommendation is in place.

Critics of hydrofracking near the city's water supply praised the plan, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said the DEC "made the right decision."

"Governor Cuomo and Commissioner Joseph Martens deserve an enormous amount of credit for protecting the unfiltered drinking water supplies of more than nine million New Yorkers, while increasing our ability to harness the benefits of New York’s natural gas resources," he said in a statement.

Sheldon Silver, the Speaker of the Assembly, which voted last November to ban hydrofracking, also praised the compromise, and said he will work to ensure no permits are issued "anywhere in the state where there are any possible dangers identified by the federal EPA study."

The Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York Executive Director Brad Gill also said it looked forward to reviewing the SGEIS.

"After so many months of waiting and delay, we look forward to the chance to get people working and our economy growing," he said in a statement.

But Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who is among the city's most vocal critics, said the report raises "crucial environmental and public health related questions for New Yorkers" and called for a more comprehensive public review process, including public hearings in the city.

A spokesman for the Governor's office did not respond to requests for comment.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered his first State of the State address at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany, N.Y., Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered his first State of the State address at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany, N.Y., Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011.
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