PEF/ENCON Letter to DEC on Marcellus

December 29, 2009

DEC union asks for more study before permitting gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale

Fracking should wait at least another year, union says

By Krisy Gashler

The union representing nearly 2,000 professional, scientific and technical staff within the New York Department of Environmental Conservation has asked Gov. David Paterson to hold off on allowing natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale for at least another year while state and federal regulators conduct more study on the environmental impact of unconventional drilling.

In a letter Monday, the Steward Council of Division 169 of the Public Employees Federation, PEF/encon, asks the governor to extend the comment period on the gas drilling Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement “for at least another 30 days and to express our judgment that the expansion of gas well hydro-fracturing must not be allowed within the next calendar year, if not longer.

“Although the Marcellus Shale natural gas formation is a valuable resource, public safety and the protection of all of our natural/environmental resources demand that NYSDEC take the time to do a complete evaluation and adequate planning before allowing its use.”

The letter continues, “(New York’s history) is full of examples where better analysis and fact-gathering could have avoided damages to our fisheries, air quality, agricultural, wildlife and water resources.”

New York shouldn’t authorize expanded gas drilling until the federal Environmental Protection Agency completes its newly authorized study, and DEC and local regulatory agencies should be adequately staffed and funded, the letter said.

Wayne Bayer, a DEC environmental program specialist and executive board representative for the union, said the substance of the letter was developed and approved by the union’s shop stewards, a 25-30 person group elected to represent the roughly 2,000 scientific and technical employees in DEC.

“We don’t mean to say that we’re convinced everyone is in total agreement with what we said there, because we could have some people who own property and are going to benefit from this in the Marcellus Shale,” Bayer said. “And we’re not saying that we’re opposed to drilling here completely forever.”

Natural gas is “eminently preferable” to petroleum products because it’s cleaner, domestically produced, and can help New York’s economy, he said. On the other hand, “there seems to be a rush to do this.”

“Too many times in the past, we’ve rushed things, whether it’s pesticide usage, disposal of chemicals into the rivers and water resources. And it costs the state of New York and the federal government lots of money afterwards to try to remedy and correct. So why not take a little bit longer. Like we said in the letter, that gas has been there for millions of years and it’s not going any place. Sure we’d like to have that revenue source, we’d like to pay less money for heating our homes and buildings, but what’s the cost of that? We don’t think enough of those questions have been answered yet,” Bayer said.

Meanwhile, a coalition of 16 business, municipal and not-for-profit groups sent a letter Tuesday to the governor urging him to move forward with gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

Signatories include the Independent Gas & Oil Association of New York, the Chamber Alliance of New York State, the Syracuse and Binghamton chambers of commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, the New York State Economic Development Council, Unshackle Upstate, and the Business Council of New York State Inc.

“We need your support for this compelling economic development opportunity, one that could benefit the State and localities significantly for years to come,” the letter said. “We should embrace our state’s ability to bring New York-produced gas to New York customers, and by so doing create new opportunity and prosperity in our own state.”

The deadline for public comments on the draft environmental impact statement is Dec. 31. DEC Spokesman Yancey Roy said he can’t yet comment on any of the letters being sent to DEC.

“We’re still taking input from the public so it would be inappropriate to address their comments at this time,” he said.