(Weird) Tales of Albany

Once upon a time in the far kingdom of Albany, the Division of Mineral Resources was required to write a guidance document on how to drill safely: the GEIS of 1992. (From its beginning, DMN had been charged with only maximizing production, minimizing waste, and protecting the rights of lease holders and land owners.) However, they were not required to write regulations based on this guidance document, and none made it into the code books: the New York Code, Rules, and Regulations.

Research by this newspaper found in the response by DMN to a questionnaire of 2009, a mention that these regulations were in fact written but never finalized. Further, DMN stated that these proposed regulations were the basis of public hearings — actually informal workshops in October 1997. Therefore, they are part of the public record and should be available.

Unfortunately bureaucracies do not readily give up information, and you are rarely successful simply asking for their files. Requests from this newspaper to DMN have never been successful. Fortunately in New York State, there is a formal procedure under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). So The New Franklin Register submitted a request to the Record Access Officer. Under the law, response is required in ten business days. The DMN, claiming that it was busy writing the SGEIS, delayed their response for two months.

Then with only two days before their belated deadline, they denied the request, saying only that it was not public record but “intra-agency materials.” Fortunately FOIL provides for an appeal. The Appeals Officer was able to compel from DMN an explanation for their denial. According to them, they searched high and low, but not one copy could be found. All that remained was a copy of revisions of these proposed regulations from 2000, possibly a draft – hence “intra-agency materials.”

Here the tale gets hard to believe. Granted that the DMN moved its offices in 2001, when much was discarded. And yes, staff have retired since 1997. Nevertheless, these proposed regulations were no minor memo. The purpose of the GEIS, which took several years to complete, was to establish safe drilling practices. Public workshops based on these proposed regulations were held in three cities, requiring stacks of copies. And the permit condition, that were substituted for formal regulations, must have been based on them.

On the 25th of October, after almost four months of delay, we received a copy of the 2000
revision of the proposed regulations based on the 1992 GEIS. Parts of the 140 page document, which is merely a listing of regulations, has been blacked out or redacted.

Perhaps the DMN withheld these proposed regulations because they did not want evidence of their past failure to regulate based on the GEIS to show up while they are trying to sell regulations based on the SGEIS.