Hydraulic Fracturing: Can Environmental Regulators Handle a Fracking Boom? (UPDATE)


Can New York’s environmental regulators keep up with fracking?

This is the question raised in a report recently published by Earthworks, a group that monitors the petroleum and mining industries.

Earthworks’ new accountability project charges that New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Division of Mineral Resources (DMR) — which creates regulations and issues permits for oil and gas drilling — already “struggles to adequately govern its existing oil and gas wells.”

“The DEC is not prepared to oversee the expected shale gas boom,” the report claims.

Inspections in New York are down over the past several years — even though there are more active wells, as: “The number of oil and gas inspections decreased by more than 1,000 per year between 2001 and 2010. Meanwhile, the number of active wells increased by approximately 1,000 over the same time period.”

In 2002, inspectors examined one out of every 2.6 active wells. In 2010, however, they only examined one out of every four active wells, meaning some 7,854 wells never got inspected in 2010.

That turns out to be more than 75 percent of active wells.

How does this rank with other states?

“Only Pennsylvania and Ohio inspectors failed to inspect a higher percentage of active wells in 2010.”

We reached out to the DEC for comment and we’re waiting to hear back.

Emily DeSantis, an agency spokeswoman, did tell the Times-Union that the DEC recognizes the need for more inspectors but hasn’t figured out how many.

She promised that the state: “will only review the number of (hydrofracking) permits that we can responsibly oversee given staffing levels.”

DEC oil and gas regulators have declined, as there are 17 inspectors, down from 19 in 2007 and 20 in 2003, the paper notes.

The “draft plan,” DeSantis said, calls for a minimum of 13 inspections throughout the well drilling and completion process.

UPDATE: DeSantis got in touch with us and reiterated these points in an e-mail, writing: “From the start, DEC has recognized the need for additional staffing to oversee high-volume hydraulic fracturing operations if this activity moves forward in New York. We have repeatedly said we will only review the number of permits that we can responsibly oversee given staffing levels. The draft SGEIS details a comprehensive monitoring and inspection program to be followed for high-volume hydraulic fracturing, including no fewer than 13 site visits over the course of the well drilling and completion process. “

Archive Highlights