New York Oil & Gas Enforcement
On July 17, 2012 the Times Union quoted a DEC spokesperson as saying "the state's draft plan would require at least 13 inspections during each well drilling and completion."
On July 17, 2012 Earthworks released its report NYS DEC: Inadequate enforcement guarantees irresponsible oil and gas development. The report was released with our partners Catskill Mountainkeeper, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Earthjustice, Environmental Advocates of New York, Environment New York, and Riverkeeper. View the press release.
New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), primarily through the Division of Mineral Resources (DMR), administers regulations and a permitting program for oil and gas drilling and well operations. The Division’s mandate involves “fostering, encouragement and promotion of the development, production and utilization of… oil and gas,” as well as responsibility for enforcement of oil and gas regulations and “the prevention of pollution.” Other divisions within DEC also participate in various aspects of oil and gas permitting and inspections.
New York has been an oil and gas producing state since the 1800s, but compared to other states New York has a relatively small industry. Although the potential for development exists, New York has not yet experienced the boom in shale gas drilling that is occurring in Pennsylvania and other parts of the country,
In New York, the primary target for shale gas development is the Marcellus Shale, with the deeper Utica Shale also identified as a potential resource. The New York DEC has determined, based on industry projections, that it may receive applications to drill approximately 1,600 Marcellus Shale wells in an average year, and that development of Marcellus Shale wells could span a 30-year period.
Currently, permitting of shale gas wells using horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) is on hold until DEC completes the environmental review required by state law, including the issuance of a Final Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS).
In June 2012, the New York Times reported that Governor Cuomo was "pursuing a plan to limit the controversial drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing to portions of several struggling New York counties along the border with Pennsylvania, and to permit it only in communities that express support for the technology." But to date, no such plan has been publicly released.
DEC has been criticized by organizations such as Environmental Advocates of New York, for failing to adequately monitor the treatment and disposal of wastewater from existing gas wells. Similarly, our review of publicly available DEC enforcement data shows that New York DEC is not prepared to oversee the expected shale gas boom because it is struggling to govern existing oil and gas wells:
- Inspections occur too infrequently and too irregularly
- Fines are inadequate
- Lack of data prevents public evaluation of DEC’s oversight
- Citizen complaints are not efficiently used to improve oversight
The Path Forward
- From top management to field staff, the DEC needs to demonstrate by its enforcement actions that it is serious about protecting New York’s health, safety, and the environment.
- DEC should hire more inspectors, at competitive wages, in order to provide consistent and thorough oversight for all active wells in the state. Until enough capacity can be added to at least inspect each producing well once a year DEC should limit the number of new drilling permits.
- The DEC needs to develop an inspection and enforcement policy to determine adequate oversight, and refrain from issuing new permits if it fails to meet its oversight responsibilities.
- The DEC should track inspections, violations, penalties and enforcement actions and make this information publicly accessible via an on-line database.
- Penalties for violations of oil and gas regulations need to be increased, and enforcement actions taken more frequently to deter operators from violating the rules.
- The DEC can strengthen relationships with citizens by responding to and resolving all citizen complaints in a timely and thorough manner. DEC should also track and make publicly available information on citizen complaints – such as information on facilities of concern, nature of complaint, DEC follow-up and complaint resolution.
For more information:
- Earthworks: Enforcement Report - DEC: Public should not have confidence that oil and gas development is occurring or will occur responsibly in New York State. Report (released July 17, 2012)
- Earthworks: New York Oil & Gas Enforcement - Inspections. Web page
- Earthworks: New York Oil & Gas Enforcement - Violations. Web page
- Earthworks: New York Oil & Gas Enforcement - Enforcement Actions. Web page
- Earthworks: New York Oil & Gas Enforcement - Public Participation. Web page
2 For example, oil and gas facilities that discharge wastewater or stormwater require a State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) permit. The Division of Water (DOW) has primary responsibility for technical review of these permits, stormwater permitting, and “conducts site inspections and effluent sampling to monitor facility performance, and to detect, identify and assess the magnitude of violations by a discharger." (Source: Revised Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) for “Well permit issuance for horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing to develop the Marcellus Shale and other low-permeability gas reservoirs.” 2011. pp. 8-32 and 8-46.)
4 ibid. p. 4.
5 “While the process of preparing the SGEIS is ongoing, any entity that applies for a drilling permit for horizontal drilling in the Marcellus Shale and opts to proceed with its permit application will be required to undertake an individual, site-specific environmental review. “ (Source: DEC web site: "Marcellus Shale"