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December 12, 2012

New rules on drilling raise ire, skepticism

COOPERSTOWN — The public-comment period for new draft state rules on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas opens today. Depending on whom you talk to, the proposed regulations favor drillers, or they represent a way to placate environmental activists out to prevent drilling before it begins.

The 30-day public-comment period brackets two major holidays, Christmas and New Year’s Day, and expires Jan. 11. After that, a major public-policy decision is expected from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration: After years of debate, should hydrofracking permits be issued in New York?

Just one thing is certain: No one appears to be fully embracing the regulations that the state Department of Environmental Conservation has issued to replace an earlier set of draft rules that, if enacted, would have ended the state’s current moratorium on hydrofacking in New York.

The new draft regulations have spurred so much agitation among gas drilling opponents that they are planning to stage what they vow will be the biggest demonstration to date against hydrofracking in New York — with a massive rally in Albany on Jan. 9. That is the same day, noted Sustainable Otsego founder Adrian Kuzminski of Fly Creek, that Cuomo will issue his State of the State speech.

By issuing a set of revised draft regulations that would oversee hydrofracking before completing research on an environmental impact statement, the Cuomo administration is “putting the cart before the horse,” Kuzminski said.

The state, he pointed out, is also waiting for the conclusion of a review by three natural gas drilling experts — billed by Cuomo administration officials as independent evaluators with no stake in the outcome — of the health impacts from allowing gas drilling in New York.

The other side is running out of patience. Advocates of gas drilling say the new regulations are even more restrictive than the earlier version. Worcester Town Board Member David Parker, active in a pro-drilling landowners coalition, called the new round of public comment on revised regulations “frustrating and disconcerting.”

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