Another delay in fracking review

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A technicality will probably delay New York's decision on fracking until next year.

Recently, state Department of Environmental Commissioner Joseph Martens announced that the state would study the potential health impacts of high-volume hydraulic fracturing. The effort will be led by Dr. Nirav Shah, commissioner of the state Department of Health. But the study means that the state's decision on fracking will again be delayed. And that means that the state won't make a deadline to finalize proposed regulations that officials introduced in 2011.

"Given that DEC has said no regulations or final decision will be issued until the completion of Dr. Shah's review, should high-volume hydraulic fracturing move forward, it is expected that a new rule-making process would be undertaken," DEC spokesperson Emily DeSantis said in an e-mail statement. "That process is required to include a public comment period and a public hearing. It affects the regulations only."

Predictably, news of another delay has ticked off drilling companies, reports the Wall Street Journal (subscription required to see all of the article). The article contains this telling quote from a key industry spokesperson:

"We took the governor at his word that he would let the science prevail. The industry is beginning to be fearful that the governor is changing his position," said Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York, the leading trade group. "The repeated delays are disgraceful."

Some anti-fracking activists will see good news in another delay; they may see the delays as a sign that the governor is starting to have doubts about whether fracking is good for New York.

But another possibility exists, one that fracking opponents ought to keep firmly in mind. Cuomo administration officials have acknowledged that they face lawsuits no matter what they decide on fracking. And the administration has shown it's inclined to approve fracking, at least to some degree, when it floated a plan to allow it in Southern Tier counties.

So state officials may still be moving toward a decision to allow fracking. They may just be taking extra steps to plug holes and shore up their supporting case, that way a judge doesn't strike down the decision on a technicality.

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