Gas drilling moratorium passes NY Senate

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - August 5, 2010

The measure, passed 48-9 late Tuesday night, would ban hydraulic fracturing in deep, horizontal gas wells until May 15, 2011. The aim is to allow more time for the Department of Environmental Conservation to finish its review and new permitting guidelines. It's expected to pass the Assembly in the fall, but Gov. David Paterson, who ordered the DEC review in 2008, won't say if he'll sign it.

Hydraulic fracturing involves high-pressure injection of millions of gallons of chemical-laced water into a well to crack rock and release gas. Opponents fear it could endanger drinking water, but the industry says it has been done safely for decades and has the potential to make the United States a world leader in natural gas production.

The technology has come under intense scrutiny since gas exploration companies started using it in the Marcellus Shale formation that lies a mile or more beneath southern New York, Pennsylvania, and parts of West Virginia and Ohio. The region includes the Delaware River watershed that provides drinking water for 17 million people from Philadelphia to New York City.

Permits for gas drilling in New York state's part of the Marcellus Shale have been on hold since the DEC started working on new permitting guidelines in 2008. That work is expected to be finished this fall, allowing drilling to begin.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has begun a $1.9 million safety review of hydraulic fracturing, to be completed in 2012. Hydraulic fracturing was exempted from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2005, but environmental groups hope the new EPA study will lead to federal oversight of the process rather than leaving it to the states.

The Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York said the state bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Antoine Thompson of Buffalo, blocks permits not only in the Marcellus Shale, but also in other shale areas of the state where drilling has been allowed to continue during the DEC review.

"Reason, science, logic and economic opportunity has lost out to a calculated campaign of misinformation and ignorance," said Brad Gill, executive director of the industry association.

Kate Sinding of the Natural Resources Defense Council's New York City office said the measure was given urgency by the Gulf oil spill and the contamination of water wells in Dimock, Pa., by a natural gas driller.

"New York can be the first state to protect residents' health and the environment before drills break ground, setting an example for the rest of the nation," Sinding said.

"I strongly believe New York state should take no further action towards the approval of permits in any drinking water sensitive area anywhere in New York state until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency completes its study of hydrofracking and companies are required to fully disclose all chemicals used in the drilling process," Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Wednesday.

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