Saturday, October 17, 2009

Paper Chase: getting a copy of the new Marcellus drilling regs

Want to read a copy of New York State’s new regulations for drilling in Marcellus Shale? Hope you’ve got a computer because the DEC (Dept. of Environmental Conservation) isn’t planning on printing them for a broad distribution.

On September 30, after more than a year of waiting, the DEC released their draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS) – but on-line only. It’s not just the folks living on top of the Marcellus shale who’ve been waiting to read this document; industry folks have been yammering for publication of the regs since spring.

What’s the big deal? The draft SGEIS is an environmental assessment that outlines safety measures, protection standards and mitigation strategies specifically for gas wells that rely on horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

It’s a hefty document - 809 pages, about the length of the most recent Harry Potter book. Unlike the Harry Potter book, print copies of the dSGEIS will be as rare as dragon teeth. Oh, they’ll be available – just not in convenient places.

“First we’ll make sure print copies are available in DEC offices,” said Yancey Roy. He’s the DEC spokesman who gets to answer all the hard questions. Then the DEC will place copies in certain libraries that are document repositories. In my library system, which serves five counties, there are 33 libraries. Only four will receive bound copies – that’s not even one per county!

The kicker – Yancey says that beyond that puny effort, DEC is “making no provisions to provide print copies to the public.” Not only would the cost be prohibitive but a large printing would level a small forest.

That means that the average Joe will need to go on-line to read the proposed regulations. And quickly, too, because comments are due by November 30.

Because the regulations outlined in the draft SGEIS impact everyone living above Marcellus shale, there is much public interest in the recently released document. But for people living in rural areas, many without access to high-speed Internet and some without home computers, reading the dSGEIS online is not a viable option.

The impending comment deadline has local municipal officials and county legislators scrambling for their reading glasses and other folks scrambling to figure out how they’re gonna read the document in 2-hour chunks at the library – assuming they’ve got a way to get to the library. Not so easy a thing to do in the rural areas.

Our library, which happens to be one of the regional repositories for DEC documents, is only open three hours each afternoon, and a couple hours in the mornings two days a week, plus Saturdays. Oh yeah, there’s a couple hours on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, too – but those are also the nights for Village and Town Hall meetings, not to mention that most people are probably down at the high school cheering on our “can we make it to state again” volleyball team.

So, while DEC dithered about printing costs, a bunch of local folks downloaded the draft SGEIS onto flashdrives and headed to the nearest copy center. Turns out it cost ‘em close to $77 to get the entire document printed, but they cracked open their piggy banks and donated copies to their communities. In one town where there isn’t a library folks can drop by the local market for a cuppa coffee and peruse a chapter or two whilst catching up on the latest gossip.

Of course Shaleshock has a copy or two up in their office for folks to read, and they made extra copies for the county library – which is a repository but didn’t get the document from DEC until late last week.

As one person said, if the DEC can’t get a print document to the stakeholders, how will the DEC be able to tackle the much larger issue of regulating the thousands of gas wells expected over the next couple of years?

No answer from Yancey on that one yet…. but if you want to read the document you can, at

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