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DEC Staff Buildup Required for Hydrofracking Permitting

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens told a panel of state lawmakers on February 7, 2012,  that it was “conceivable” that a handful of hydraulic fracturing permits could be issued in 2012 but that a final decision is “months, not years away.”  Martens cautioned that the number of permits that could be issued in 2012 would be “extremely limited” in part due to the “considerable work that remains before we finalize our regulatory framework.”

An additional hurdle to overcome before hydraulic fracturing can commence in earnest is the need to build up DEC’s regulatory staff to sufficiently oversee the proposed activity.  According to the Ithaca Journal, Commissioner Martens stated that DEC currently employs 16 gas drilling regulators, but estimates that the Agency would need 140 additional regulatory staffers during the first year that permits are issued.  According to the Public Employees Federation (“PEF”), DEC has lost more than 800 full time employees since 2008 because of budget cutbacks.  The PEF represents some 1,700 scientific and technical workers at DEC.  Wayne Bayer, a shop steward for PEF, advised lawmakers that his union continues to support a moratorium on hydrofracking because existing staff shortages at DEC do not support this labor-intensive mission.

Based upon Commissioner Martens’ statements and the comments of Albany lawmakers, it does not appear that any significant hydraulic fracturing activity will be permitted until 2013, at the earliest.  We should look to any new DEC staff hires as a sign of New York’s commitment to allow fracking to commence.