As reported last week, the state of New York was considering a ban on the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” for natural gas exploration. Over the weekend Governor David Patterson signed a seven month moratorium on the most potentially destructive methods of horizontal fracturing, although many climate hawks would have preferred a more extensive ban.
Patterson vetoed a bill the legislature passed that would have suspended all new natural gas permits through May 15, 2011. While the moratorium he issued in response does last longer than the legislature’s proposed ban, extending until July 1, 2011, it still allows continued permitting for lower volume vertical wells.
Drilling industry insiders people consider Patterson’s decision to be a compromise, saying that a full ban would threaten jobs and economic development in the region in question and claiming that the vetoed legislation was “replete with unintended and dire consequences” for the region. There is concern that the drilling industry will sidestep the moratorium and turn a vertically-drilled well horizontal after a permit is issued, but environmental watchdog group Riverkeeper says they will be “watching closely” to make sure this doesn’t happen.
The timing of this decision coincides with new proposals on fracking from the Delaware River Basin Commission, the regional regulatory agency made up of the Governors of Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and New Jersey. The agency’s new rules have been challenged by Patterson and others for conflicting with state regulations, but the commission insists that state regulations would take precedent if they were more stringent than those issued by the DRBC. Most agree that more comprehensive studies are necessary before regulatory rules are issued.
For now, the New York moratorium decision will basically pass responsibility to incoming Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo, who will eventually have to issue another ruling as to whether horizontal hydraulic fracturing can continue post-moratorium. Currently there is no indication as to where he stands on the issue, but stay tuned as there is definitely more to come on this hot and controversial topic.