“The DEC is rushing to start the permitting process when they have no capacity anywhere in this state to absorb the wastewater,” added Hudson. “There’s a lack of disposal capacity in this state, a lack of publicly operated treatment plants that could accept it.”

Hudson added that another concern at Riverkeeper is lack of manpower at the DEC to provide the needed regulatory oversight. “We have a completely understaffed agency. They need 140 new staff members in the first year of monitoring and regulating the industry … you wonder to what extent these regulations will be sufficient, which are not designed for fracking waste, but industrial wastewater.”

Hudson said the existing regulations don’t address “unique aspects of fracking waste, not the least of which is NORM and the extremely saline production brine. Are these generic programs going to be sufficient? You would have thought some lessons were learned across the border in Pennsylvania. Rushing before you’re ready and then playing regulatory catch-up is a recipe for disaster.”

Gutted regulations

Hang said the notion of using municipal sewage plants to dispose of the toxic fracking wastewater is indicative of the general laxness of regulatory oversight of the oil and gas industry. Whereas other industries, such as steel manufacturing, must abide by a carefully regulated “standard industrial classification code,” oil and gas — despite being one of the biggest industries in America — is the exception. “An army of lobbyists have effectively prevented strict pollution control standards being adopted,” Hang said.

Hang noted that a glaring example of the regulatory break the oil and gas industry is getting from the DEC is an exemption from the state’s GA effluent limitation, which are stringent groundwater discharge standards for groundwater that supplies potable drinking water. In its proposed regulations, “DEC decided not to apply those standards,” he said. “If they were applied you couldn’t pump one drop into the ground, because the benzene levels would be exceeded. And they provided an exemption with no technical or legal rationale.”

“It’s insane,” is how Howarth, who is particularly concerned about the massive amount of methane gas that could leak into the atmosphere when a fracking well is drilled, summed up the proposed DEC regulations. Noting that the price of natural gas is currently below the amount that’s profitable for the gas companies, he said it’s as clear as day the companies will “resist putting in the environmental regulations.”

“This whole regulatory proceeding is fundamentally flawed,” concluded Hang. “The bottom line is New York State does not have any capacity whatsoever to manage this gas drilling wastewater.”

The DEC is accepting public comment on the revised SGEIS, which was developed in response to the thousands of public comments on the original draft that came out in September 2009, through Dec. 12. The SGEIS is grafted onto the agency’s existing regulations pertaining to oil and gas mining. Once the full revised SGEIS is released, the DEC will issue its final review, which will be subject to public review for 60 days. To review the SGEIS and proposed regulations, visit www.dec.ny.gov.