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Riverkeeper Hopes Comments Stall Hydrofracking

OSSINING, N.Y. – The Riverkeeper environmental watchdog organization is hoping that voluminous public comments will keep the state Department of Environmental Conservation from moving forward with the approval of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, in order to extract natural gas.

"The exponential increase in the number of commenters clearly indicates an increased awareness, understanding and concern about this activity," said Kate Hudson, the watershed program director for Ossining-based Riverkeeper. "We're hoping that this is going to give the DEC and our governor significant pause, that they should not move forward in their lockstep to allow hydrofracking to operate."

In 2009, a state Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on hydrofracking generated about 13,000 comments. A revised 2011 SGEIS had generated 20,800 comments as of Monday, and more comments were submitted from Monday through Wednesday, the deadline for comment submission.

"There has been an unprecedented response to this issue with tens of thousands of comments submitted. All comments are being carefully considered as we develop the final rules and conditions for high-volume hydraulic fracturing," said Joseph Martens, the commissioner of the state DEC in a prepared statement. "Many significant improvements were made to the 2009 draft based on comments DEC received. We expect additional improvements will be made to the 2011 draft based on the comments submitted during this comment period."

By law, state employees must read every comment submitted and respond to every issue raised, Hudson said. State DEC spokeswoman Lisa King said that after reviewing comments, the state DEC will make changes to its documents. The DEC expects final documents on hydrofracking to be released in 2012, and if the documents determine that the gas-extraction method could move forward in New York, the DEC could then begin to review hydrofracking permit applications.

Riverkeeper submitted more than 500 pages of legal comments responding to the state SGEIS. The organization feels that the state does not have sufficient information in order to make a decision on hydrofracking.

"Until the DEC can show that it can be done safely and that it will be an economic benefit as opposed to an economic burden, it shouldn't go forwards," Hudson said.

Riverkeeper posted on its website 10 major flaws with the state's hydrofracking plan, including a failure to fully protect the New York City watershed, a failure to fully protect the tunnels, dams and aqueducts that deliver New York City's water, and a failure to project aquifers and private wells.

Hudson noted that in every state where hydrofracking is currently allowed, there have been negative impacts including contamination of drinking water, air pollution, the industrialization of rural landscapes and taxpayers not being compensated for costs associated with hydrofracking.

"In Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Colorado there's a battle royale between people who have lost their drinking water and the companies and government," Hudson said.

Hyrdrofracking generates methane, a flammable gas, as a contaminant, as well as other chemicals, Hudson said.

"In gasland, you see people lighting water out of their kitchen faucets," Hudson said. "Companies in some cases are willing to give people purification systems to get rid of methane, but it doesn't get rid of the chemicals."

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