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Questions on NY's gas-drilling rules

ALBANY -- While an energy industry economist says New York's proposal to place large areas off-limits to gas drilling is overly restrictive, an environmental lawyer says the proposed watershed protections don't go far enough.

The Department of Environmental Conservation posted its 700-plus-page blueprint for hydraulic fracturing in the lucrative Marcellus Shale region on its website on Friday, allowing industry and environmental groups to start dissecting the proposed plan to allow gas drilling in an area where it's been on hold since 2008.

More than 3,300 gas wells have been drilled since 2005 across the border in Pennsylvania, bringing new jobs and economic benefits as well as environmental problems such as accidental chemical spills, gas-tainted well water and river pollution. New York State regulators have upheld permitting for three years while they conduct an environmental review and draft new regulations.

The proposed New York rules include a section describing several gas-drilling operation accidents in Pennsylvania and outlining New York's measures designed to mitigate such incidents.

"Our biggest concern is the restrictions that have been added," said John Felmy, chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute.

Felmy said natural gas development in New York's economically depressed Southern Tier would bring billions of dollars in economic activity, thousands of jobs, and new tax revenues. But a coalition of 47 health and environmental groups has called for a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, saying it poses unacceptable risks.

Joe Martens, the state's environmental commissioner, said the watersheds and state lands where gas-drilling would be prohibited amount to about 15 percent of the land in New York's part of the Marcellus Shale, the nation's largest-known natural gas reservoir.

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