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'Fracking' in Sullivan may start in 2012
By Steve Israel
Published: 2:00 AM - 08/12/11
Last updated: 6:32 AM - 08/12/11
Permits for "fracking" for natural gas in areas like Sullivan County could be issued as soon as a few months, said the state's top environmental official.
"In 2012, perhaps even the first half of 2012," Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens told the Times Herald-Record Thursday, referring to when state regulations for the controversial drilling extraction process will be finalized.
But in an hour-long interview about what he called "the issue of the decade," Martens added qualifiers. They include expected legal challenges to the laws regulating drilling, and especially a potential shortage of staff to enforce those laws.
"We do know we need an increase in staff to get this right," he said. "If we don't, we're going to be very slow. We won't permit more than we have the capacity to oversee and enforce."
Martens repeatedly stressed the safety of the horizontal drilling process of high volume hydraulic fracturing, which critics say pollutes water. He said the DEC banned it in the unfiltered watersheds of New York City and Syracuse and not in the Delaware River watershed only because of concerns the federal government would repeal the "filtration avoidance" permits of those systems.
Doesn't want permits repealed
"It's not because I think there's any more risk in the watershed than there is outside," he said, pointing to EPA prohibitions for various potentially harmful industrial and agricultural activity in the New York City watershed.
Martens, who helped start one of the state's most vocal anti-drilling groups, Sullivan's Catskill Mountainkeeper, said he understands the opposition to drilling — and the urgency of supporters who point to its economic benefits.
But he stressed New York will have "the most stringent regulations in the country." They're regulations that will also mitigate the impact of truck traffic and require the inspection of old wells — and their potential for toxic leakage — within a mile of new ones.
"It can be done safely," he said. "That's the bottom line."