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Revised 'fracking' regulations released in NY

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GEORGE M. WALSH, Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A revised set of proposed regulations for hydraulic fracturing natural gas has been released by New York environmental officials who will begin taking public comment on them soon.

The voluminous technical document was made public by the Department of Environmental Conservation on its website Nov. 29, a day before the deadline for adopting rules for the controversial drilling known as "fracking" or making changes and allowing more comment. It has been a year since the last public hearings on the original proposal. New York has not yet approved the technology, which drillers want to use to tap gas in the Marcellus Shale formation.

The first round of hearings on regulations proposed in 2011 generated 80,000 comments, which DEC officials said slowed their review and revision of the proposal. It said the latest changes include a number responding to the original comments. The agency said Thursday the changes allow it to extend the review process and take into account a pending analysis by the state health department.

Calls by opponents for an independent study of potential health threats from the drilling were rejected by the Cuomo administration, which instead asked state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah to oversee an assessment of health issues.

"DEC will not take any final action until after Dr. Shah's health review is completed," agency spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said. "This action merely extends the rule-making period to enable DEC to take into account Dr. Shah's review."

The DEC said it will take written comments on the latest revisions from Dec. 12 until Jan. 11.

Hydraulic fracturing injects millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals into wells to crack the shale and free the gas. It has divided environmental and business interests at odds over potential harm to water and other resources and the potential for tapping an abundant supply of gas and creating jobs.

One of the major objections raised by environmental groups was that the regulations didn't spell out how drillers should dispose of the enormous volume of wastewater produced from fracked wells. The revised regulations leave it up to drillers to say how they'll dispose of the wastewater while complying with various pollution rules. The regulations say the driller "must have an approvable plan identifying the ultimate disposition" of wastewater, and must also submit an acceptable contingency plan to be used if the primary plan turns out to be unworkable.

According to the DEC documents, among the other revisions are removing a $2 million cap on financial security that drillers must put up based on anticipated costs of plugging and abandonment of a well, potentially requiring them to put up more; stronger requirements for plugging and abandonment of wells; stricter disclosure requirements for fracking chemicals; a 15-day public comment period on permit applications; and provisions for collection of fees.

Regarding the industry's costs for complying with the regulations, the documents say the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York estimated costs would range from $400,000 to $1.7 million for the first well drilled on a well pad. The DEC said its own cost assessment found the industry estimate to be excessive.

The documents also say enforcing the regulations and overseeing shale gas development will create additional cost for the DEC and the state departments of health and transportation, but that those costs can't be calculated accurately at this point.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press