The NY State Assembly voted to enact legislation that would extend the moratorium on high volume hydraulic fracturing until 2015, aiming to facilitate additional health and environmental impact assessments.

On March 6, 2013, the New York State Assembly passed a bill to further suspend issuance of permits for high volume hydraulic fracturing until May 15, 2015. The bill passed with a vote of 95-40 and marks the Assembly’s third moratorium, following similar measures in 2010 and 2011. The industry currently awaits the release of DEC’s Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) and a subsequent ruling for permit issuance.

While the SGEIS is underway, the moratorium intends to provide more time to assess DEC findings and consider additional studies. In particular, the legislation calls for a new health impact assessment, citing unanswered questions regarding injection of chemical-laden water, radioactive materials in wastewater, and release of methane during the fracturing process. As such, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended a model health impact review, which the SUNY school of public health would conduct.

DEC’s original rulemaking deadline of November 29, 2012 was delayed after approval of a 90-day extension for completion of an initial health review. In February of 2013, the NY Department of Health (DOH) delayed the process again by seeking additional time to complete a review of more recent health impact studies.

A fracturing moratorium has been in place in NY State since 2008 due to concerns over health effects and environmental impacts of high volume hydraulic fracturing. Since then, the state has been conducting a comprehensive environmental review in order to lift the moratorium and issue regulations. Hydraulic fracturing unlocks natural gas deposits by injecting millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals and sand into underground shale bed formations.

Combined with horizontal drilling, the practice has advanced natural gas development in the nation’s East, South, and Midwest regions, spurring a natural gas boom capable of supplying the nation for decades.

The bill must first be ratified by the Senate before it goes to Governor Andrew Cuomo for final approval, which would lead to implementation of a two-year moratorium on high volume hydraulic fracturing of the Marcellus and Utica formations – two of the most important natural gas deposits in the nation. Governor Cuomo is awaiting recommendations from DOH and DEC, and has yet to determine a decision deadline. Many other states have already reaped significant economic benefits by utilizing high volume hydraulic fracturing under sound regulatory framework, and a lift of the ban could pave the path for NY State to see similar economic growth.

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