State Environmental Commissioner Joe Martens said Tuesday his agency could approve shale gas permits before hydrofracking regulations are completed if a separate study determines the controversial drilling method will not threaten the public health.
Martens issued the statement after state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah indicated he needs “additional time” to finish his review of the potential health impacts of high-volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.
Shah informed Martens in a letter that his review would wrap up “within a few weeks” and that he and his “team” will be in Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., in the days ahead for briefings on health studies being conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Martens signaled the state Department of Environmental Conservation could issue permits to drilling companies even without regulations in place as long as the health review does not point to negative health impacts.
“If the DOH (Department of Health) Public Health Review finds that the SGEIS (Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement) has adequately addressed health concerns, and I adopt the SGEIS on that basis, DEC can accept and process high-volume hydraulic fracturing permit applications 10 days after issuance of the SGEIS,” Martens said in a statement. “The regulations simply codify the program requirements.”
Marten said the delay in the health study means his own agency will will not meet the deadline of today to complete the environmental impact statement of shale gas drilling. Issuing the environmental impact statement is required in order to meet a Feb. 27 deadline for the drilling regulations.
Reaction to the developments was mixed.
Yoko Ono, the widow of slain Beatle John Lennon and the leader of a group called Artists Against Fracking, praised Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the extension given by his administration for the health study.