A year ago, the Department of Environmental Conservation released draft regulations for fracking and opened a 30-day public comment period over the holidays. In response, the people of New York became a state full of writers and sent a record-breaking number of comments to the DEC that revealed fatal flaws in the draft regs.
As part of that process, I created an online resource called 30 Days of Fracking Regs, which explored one passage from the regulatory draft each day and lined up some science to help citizens craft their own original comments. Thousand of New Yorkers participated.
This year—in September—the DEC released another set of draft regulations that would repeal another de facto moratorium, namely the statewide ban on the construction of Liquefied Natural Gas facilities. In October, the DEC opened another brief comment period.
And there the similarities end.
The big different between the release of last year’s fracking regs and this year’s LNG regs is familiarity.
Last year’s fracking regs capped an almost four-year political process with many public hearings, debates, news stories and two different iterations of an environmental impact statement, the sGEIS. By contrast, this year’s LNG regs came out of the blue. They enact a statute that passed the state legislature when Gerald Ford was president. And they provide rules for a hazardous substance that very few people have ever heard of: LNG. No surprise there because the statewide moratorium on LNG facilities began when Richard Nixon was in office.
So, when I retooled the Thirty Days of Regs project to help people compose and submit informed comments, it was with some trepidation. LNG, unlike fracking, was not a topic at everyone’s dinner party.
And yet, here I am again with thousands and thousands of public comments to deliver to DEC. To be specific, I am the courier of nearly 11,000 comments out the more than 50,000 in the boxes. They come from classrooms, faith groups, community comment-writing parties and through the Thirty Days website. I want to emphasize that these are unique, original comments and, all together, they provide a devastating critique of the wolf in sheep’s clothing that is the DEC’s draft LNG regs. Nobody likes them.
Since I’ve read the majority of the nearly 11,000 comments from the Thirty Days Project, I’d like to give you a flavor of their content. Here are some of the major themes:
First, for many commenters, the connection between LNG and fracking is plain to see, and, in their remarks, they freely connect the dots.
In the words of one, “LNG sets the table” for fracking by providing new markets, including a passport for export, and by solving the storage problem for the fracking industry.
Second, many commenters take issue with the DEC’s claim that the impetus behind these regs—which took 37 years to draft—is “renewed interest” in LNG as a transportation fuel. That’s a direct quote from the regs. Commenters ask—including some who identified themselves as town board members—in whose renewed interest? “This interest is not coming from us. No one is asking for access to LNG.” They question if the DEC is truly protecting the public or acting on the behest of the gas industry.
They point out that LNG trucks have a higher center of gravity and are more prone to rollover. (That fact is contained within the 1998 supporting document referenced by the regs.)
Lots of people expressed their concern for highway safety and their unhappiness with sharing the roadways with LNG trucks. No one wants to commute with LNG truck fleets.
Third, many commenters question the DEC’s central rationale that LNG is environmentally beneficial. Some note that the creation of LNG through cryogenics requires fossil fuel energy.
And that’s true. Also, as many others note, the storage of LNG requires perpetual methane venting. These methane leaks are not limited or even measured by the rules promulgated in the draft regs.
Commenters focus on the whole lifecycle of LNG, whereas the DEC looks only at tailpipes.
From Huntington, NY: “The whole process causes more carbon waste. . . we cannot afford that as we are in a climate crisis.”
From Delhi, NY: LNG “negates any climate change benefits of burning natural gas.”
Many commenters called for an environmental impact statement.
From Otego: “Methane leakage in HVHF operations has not been quantified, and the same holds true for LNG.”
From Rochester: “Burning fossil fuel to create transportable fossil fuel in the guise of environmentally friendly energy is absurd.”
Fourth, lots of people pointed out the lack of binding language in the regs and the frequency of wiggly words like “may” and “if any.”The result is a list of guidelines that allow the LNG operators to decide for themselves what the salient environmental impacts are and how to devise a plan to mitigate them.
From Vestal: “We don’t tell car owners that they can figure out how to deal with exhaust emissions and let it go at that. This is tested each year at inspection.”
The DEC receives a lot of scolding from New York’s English teachers in these comments.
From Branchport, NY: “I spent 40 years as an English teacher giving poor grades to this kind of writing. It deliberately avoids saying anything useful. It does not say how it will judge the mitigation of environmental impacts or what penalties will be applied to failure.”
Some writers suggested their own binding rules as revisions to the lack of siting criteria.
Here is one suggested by a commenter from Tully, NY: “Each facility should have a setback from any place frequented by people of 1.5 times the incineration zone for the size of the facility.”
I noticed a few regional differences in the concerns of upstate and downstate commenters.
A lot of downstate residents focused on the demonstrable risk of terrorism, noting that there is nothing in the draft regs on this topic at all, even though LNG facilities are known to be desirable terrorist targets. Al Quaeda operatives have shown interest in LNG, for example.
From a Manhattan resident who points out that she lives near Ground Zero and survived 9/11: An LNG tank will appear to a terrorist the way “British lobster coats looked to our revolutionary soldiers.”
Upstaters focused more on the way density and zoning will be used in siting decisions—with the draft regs not specifying how. Will unzoned rural areas therefore become magnets for LNG facilities?
Upstaters also focused on jobs and took issue with the DEC’s Jobs Exemption Statement, which says that there will be no job losses if LNG facilities are allowed to be built. These writers point to the fine print of the regs that imagines large-scale LNG production facilities manufacturing large quantities of LNG 24/7. Writers emphasized that this kind of large-scale industrialization will surely impact jobs in tourism, wineries, recreation, and agriculture?
Finally, many commenters scoffed at the ridiculously low proposed permit fees, which can’t possibly provide adequate regulatory oversight. One writer notes the sunroom for her house required a permit that cost more than a permit for a large-scale LNG facility.
To close, I offer this summation from a comment-writer in New York City, which expresses plainly and succinctly many of the dominant themes in the 11,000 comments that the DEC is about to receive. It also echoes my own response to the regs:
“I found the science in the fracking regulations to be flawed, biased, and partial, but at least there was science. There regulations rely on one study, which the DEC consistently attributes to NYSERDA but which was really penned by an LNG producer, Expansion Energy. But even reliance on an industry memo for its science wasn’t enough for the DEC. DEC claims the the study shows that LNG is environmentally beneficial, but there is nothing in the study to support that claim. Worse still, Expansion Energy formally puts us all on notice that they are not liable for the information in the study. Talk about a circular firing squad! This is unworthy of whatever taxpayer money was spent on it.”