Helen Slottje is an Ithaca-based lawyer who helped develop town bans against drilling. She spoke to a friendly crowd on Monday night at the Unitarian Church of Ithaca.
“It seems likes it’s become sort of an annual holiday tradition to talk about the SGEIS, SEQRA, regs and all of that. I’m glad to be here again, celebrating the holidays this sort of way,” says Slottje.
The meeting was in preparation for another public comment period. The Department of Environmental Conservation released a draft set of hydrofracking regulations in November, a year after releasing the last draft. The new rules are open for public comment until Jan. 11.
Slottje went on to describe a plan to challenge the entirety of the DEC’s fracking rulemaking process.
She argues that the Nov. 29 deadline that triggered the release of the draft regulations should apply to the whole environmental review process – the SGEIS.
In this case, the DEC applied for a 90-day extension for the rules, but not the SGEIS.
“They are all one in the same, they have to be presented as a complete package," says Slottje. "We have to have the opportunity to look at it as a complete package. And this sort of segmentation and timing and the way they’re handling it is just totally outrageous.”
After releasing them, the DEC said they were only proposed regulations and they could be changed once the DEC is done with its environmental impact review. Slottje says that makes the whole process a farce.
“So why were we supposed to spend 30 days diligently working through this if you weren’t, you’re saying there’s a decent chance you’re not even going to look at them? That’s an exercise in absurdity,” says. Slottje.
But still the public comment period will go on. Cornell professor Tony Ingraffea also spoke to the standing-room-only crowd on Monday night. Ingraffea focused on the best ways to write a comment.
“Make sure that you have a well-reasoned rationale. It doesn’t have to be one sentence, two sentences, it can be twenty pages, as long as it’s reasoned and not over blown and then cite the literature,” says Ingraffea.
Ingraffea approached this commenting period by reading the DEC’s responses to past comments, which are posted on the agency’s website. During last year’s public comments, he questioned whether adding a layer of casing to wells actually prevents leaks.
“And then I appended documents and sketches that show that even with a fourth string of casing, or a fifth string of casing, or a sixth string of casing, bad things have still happened,” says Ingraffea.
In their response, the DEC apparently merged his comment with others that dealt with well casing.
“And then they concluded in their response that since I hadn’t provided scientific proof, even though I asked them for scientific proof, they stand by their statement,” says Ingraffea.
But the speakers in Ithaca didn’t portray submitting comments as a complete waste of time. The third speaker, Sandra Steingraber, is an author and founder of New Yorkers Against Fracking.
She’s started a site called 30daysoffrackingregs.com to facilitate anti-fracking comments.
“And I think the answer to why we should go on anyway and comment and play this game is because silence is consent,” says Steingraber.
Steingraber agrees that the process is deeply flawed. But she says opponents can keep slowing it down by flooding the capital with comments before the Jan. 11 deadline.