New York State Comptroller proposes a fund to clean up environmental damage.
New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli proposed Tuesday establishing a fund supported by fees from drillers to clean up environmental damage from natural gas drilling using high-volume hydraulic fracturing.
The program, which would require legislation and also apply to current drilling operations, would be similar to the existing state fund for oil spills financed by an 8-cent per barrel fee on the first transfer of petroleum to a major petroleum facility in the state, as well as recoveries and penalties from those responsible.
DiNapoli hasn't specified amounts for the gas-drilling fund and fees, decisions that would be left to the Department of Environmental Conservation. His proposed bill would require anyone engaging in natural gas production in New York to post a bond to cover potential contamination liability.
"The only current remedy for private citizens who suffer damages to their property from natural gas production is to enter into litigation, which has the potential to be costly, difficult and slow,'' DiNapoli said. "Preventing accidents and contamination should always be our first priority. But it's impossible to eliminate all risk. If an accident does occur, the state needs to be ready with a rapid response and a reliable mechanism to hold polluters responsible.''
The DEC last month proposed regulations to permit hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking,'' in most of the state's potentially lucrative Marcellus Shale formation across the state's Southern Tier, but prohibited in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds, on state land and within primary aquifers.
The technology extracts natural gas from shale by pumping water, chemicals and sand into the ground to create fissures in the rock and release the gas. Most drilling will be at least 2,000 feet deep and can reach 4,000 both vertically and horizontally, officials said.
The DEC plans to issue revised draft rules by late August, accept more public comments for 60 days, and issue final rules, now expected next year.
DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said they believe enabling legislation would be required before they could impose the requirements DiNapoli proposed. The agency and an advisory panel are looking at those issues and will make recommendations later, she said.
Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, a Long Island Democrat who chairs the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee, called the proposal "a sensible and sound approach'' to ensure taxpayers and New York's environment are protected. He expects overwhelming support in the Democrat-controlled Assembly, which earlier this year backed a continued state moratorium on hydrofracking, he said.
Lawmakers, whose session ended in June, may return in the fall to approve public employee contracts should the unions accept them. Sweeney said it's another question whether they would consider this or any other measures then.
Calls to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office and to the state Senate Republican majority about the proposal were not returned immediately returned.