New York DEC Staff Shorthanded to Reply to 14,000 Marcellus Shale Comments – Environmental Inspectors Down to 16

As the short-staffed New York State environmental agency avoids remarking on its ability to monitor natural gas drilling, an investigation by DCBureau reveals a decline in inspectors. This intensifies grave concerns about New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s ability to protect its citizens and the environment from negative impacts of gas drilling.

“We are extremely concerned that the agency does not have adequate staff or other resources to properly administer and enforce what we think is going to be a massive new regulatory program,” says Kate Sinding, a Natural Resources Defense Council senior staff attorney.

Last year, DEC director of communications, Yancey Roy, dodged a question about staff shortages. When DCBureau asked him whether the agency has adequate staff to regulate increased drilling, Roy referred to a statement over a year ago by DEC commissioner, Pete Grannis, at a New York State Assembly hearing. At the hearing on oil and gas drilling, Grannis said DEC will “certainly” need additional staff if it receives a large number of applications for drilling permits using horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

VIDEO: Alison Sickle talks with Russia Today on the dangers of drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale.

As the short-staffed New York State environmental agency avoids remarking on its ability to monitor natural gas drilling, an investigation by DCBureau reveals a decline in inspectors. This intensifies grave concerns about New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s ability to protect its citizens and the environment from negative impacts of gas drilling.

“We are extremely concerned that the agency does not have adequate staff or other resources to properly administer and enforce what we think is going to be a massive new regulatory program,” says Kate Sinding, a Natural Resources Defense Council senior staff attorney.

Last year, DEC director of communications, Yancey Roy, dodged a question about staff shortages. When DCBureau asked him whether the agency has adequate staff to regulate increased drilling, Roy referred to a statement over a year ago by DEC commissioner, Pete Grannis, at a New York State Assembly hearing. At the hearing on oil and gas drilling, Grannis said DEC will “certainly” need additional staff if it receives a large number of applications for drilling permits using horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

DEC had 17 inspectors in its Division of Mineral Resources last winter. The number of inspectors has dropped to 16 – one retired, according to Roy. Inspectors have a wide range of duties beyond monitoring drilling company compliance with state laws. New York, like most other states, is dealing with budget shortfalls. And federal exemptions to industrial drilling limit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to assist state regulators using statutes including the Safe Drinking Water Act.

While neighboring Pennsylvania prepares to issue 5,000 gas drilling permits in the Marcellus Shale this year, Roy declined to comment on the number of applications the agency expects to receive for the formation. “I can’t predict how many applications may or may not be received,” he wrote in an e-mail to DCBureau.

But before DEC can issue permits using horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing, the agency must complete its final statement on these techniques, which includes responding to about 14,000 comments on its environmental impact statement. According to Grannis, DEC expects to complete its review of horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing in late summer or early fall. He says staff shortages are responsible for the lengthy review process.

“As with every agency, we are understaffed,” Grannis says in an article on Greater Binghamton’s pressconnects.com. “Men and women at the DEC are putting in collectively about 50 hours a day, all told, in going through the comments and writing up the responses.”

Last week, DEC announced that drillers pursuing permits in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds must conduct an individual environmental impact review – as opposed to the state’s generic environmental impact assessment, which will be required for applicants pursuing drilling permits in other areas of New York. This announcement removes these watersheds from the environmental impact statement of horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing. If DEC receives many applications for drilling permits in these watersheds, the short-staffed agency may have trouble analyzing separate environmental impact reviews.

“If they didn’t have the staff, it would certainly slow things down even further,” says Jim Smith, a spokesman for Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York. “But the governor has already indicated and industry has supported the idea of more staff at DEC.”

Smith says when the agency issues gas drilling permits, there will be “more than enough” money to finance additional staff due to permit fees and gas production revenues which go to the state. That sounds familiar, like banks paying the rating agency fees.

Allison Sickle

Allison Sickle

Allison Sickle earned a Bachelor of Arts in mass communication with a focus in print journalism and a minor in environmental studies from Loyola University New Orleans. While pursuing this degree, she developed key journalist attributes and conducted extensive environmental research. Sickle is a former environmental reporter for NRNS.

More Posts