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Gas panel combines fracking fans and foes to advise New York State

Marie Cusick
Natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale has sparked a major public debate. Last month, environmentalists came to Albany demanding an outright ban on hydrofracking.

As New York wrestles with how to regulate gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is bringing together people from both sides of the hydrofracking debate.

Sounds like things could get pretty heated, right? Wanna take a look inside?

Too bad, the public's not invited.

The new advisory panel met with the DEC for the first time yesterday. It was originally made up of 12 members, but five more were recently added. They represent the gas industry, environmental groups, and local governments.

They're charged with making sure that state and local governments have enough resources to handle everything that comes along with the controversial drilling technique, from regulations and permits, to roads an infrastructure.

The panel will convene over the next few months, and its recommendations are expected by early November. However, all of those recommendations will need legislative approval.

Robert Moore is the executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York and one of the panel members. He believes it will be a daunting task to make sure drilling is done right.

"The governor has said time and time again if this is done, it will be done safely. He didn't say it will be done cost effectively, he didn't say it will be done as safe as we can afford ... he said it will be done safely. That was the promise made to New Yorkers and I take the governor at his word," says Moore.

Since panel's recommendations are non-binding, the DEC claims that state open meetings law doesn't apply to the proceedings. DEC Commissioner Joe Martens defended the decision to keep its meetings closed to the public.

"This is a purely advisory panel ... I think it's a perfectly appropriate process for us to have internally."

The public will get to weigh in and comment on the DEC's next draft of its rules that will regulate drilling. That report is due by the end of the month.

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