ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — An environmental group alleged Thursday that a natural gas industry lawyer used "inside information" from New York regulators to try to weaken drilling regulations, but the lawyer said he was granted no special access and the state Department of Environmental Conservation said it was following required procedures to assess the proposed rules' impact.
The Environmental Working Group released e-mail exchanges obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request. In one, a lawyer representing Chesapeake Energy urged regulators to "reduce or eliminate radionuclide testing" of storm water that could run off drilling sites.
DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said the e-mail exchanges reflect the agency's routine process of gathering feedback from stakeholders.
"Under State Administrative Procedures Act, state agencies are required to assess the impacts of the regulatory action on the regulated entity," DeSantis said via e-mail. "Agencies cannot gather this data without holding meetings and engaging in other forms of communication with the regulated community prior to proposing the regulation."
Wastewater produced by shale gas drilling can contain high levels of naturally occurring radioactive particles.
In the e-mail dated Sept. 26, Albany lawyer Tom West and industry experts argue that there's no reason to test for radioactive contamination in storm water runoff from sites where wastewater from deep underground is stored in closed tanks, as DEC is requiring.
West told The Associated Press on Thursday that, contrary to the Environmental Working Group's assertions, the industry had far less access to DEC officials than environmental groups and others had, and far less than any industry normally has when regulations are being developed.
"This is the most minimal outreach I've seen in my 30 years plus of practice," West said.
West said the agency provided industry representatives with a draft of proposed storm water runoff regulations for the purpose of getting an estimate of the cost of compliance. State agencies are required to gather cost estimates when proposing regulations.
"We were told they weren't going to make any changes to what they were proposing, and they did not," he said.
The Environmental Working Group, based in Washington, D.C., is seeking a moratorium on shale gas drilling until all health and environmental concerns are resolved to the satisfaction of environmental groups.
"Having inside information gave drilling industry representatives a unique opportunity to try to influence the state's plan behind closed doors, before others could weigh in," the group's lawyer, Thomas Cluderay, wrote in a release Thursday.
While thousands of gas wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania's part of the massive Marcellus Shale formation, the part of the formation underlying southern New York has been off-limits since 2008, when regulators began a comprehensive environmental review. The review was prompted by concerns over potential drinking water contamination and other impacts from high-volume hydraulic fracturing, which injects a well with millions of gallons of chemically treated water to fracture shale and release gas.
DEC released its proposed regulations on Sept. 28. Since then, the agency has been reviewing and responding to nearly 70,000 public comments, including extensive technical documents submitted by environmental and industry groups.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to decide in coming months whether to allow shale gas drilling.