* Gov. Cuomo delays fracking decision again
* Legal battles still to be fought
* Permits could be delayed until 2014
By Edward McAllister
NEW YORK, Feb 14 The fracking debate in New York
state is hitting new heights as regulators delay a final
decision on the controversial natural gas production method, but
it looks increasingly clear that it will be a year - if ever -
before drilling begins again.
Governor Andrew Cuomo missed a Wednesday deadline for
completing a report on the environmental impact of hydraulic
fracturing, better known as fracking, that was to form the basis
for new drilling rules.
As a result, a now-four year moratorium on shale gas
drilling in the Empire State could extend into 2014 forcing
companies such as Chesapeake Energy and a host of
smaller independents to sit on their idle land leases and wait.
Over the last decade, U.S. energy companies have advanced
hydraulic fracturing techniques, unlocking vast quantities of
natural gas and oil trapped in shale rock. But drilling in New
York's portion of the Marcellus shale deposit, one of the
biggest in the country, has been halted since 2008 amid concerns
that fracking, which involves pumping chemical-laced water and
sand deep below the surface, can contaminate water supplies.
Fracking has become a hugely divisive issue in New York
where communities are weighing the economic benefits of allowing
energy development against the environmental concerns.
However, even if the drilling is allowed to proceed in the
coming months, legal battles could hold up well permits,
potentially delaying energy production for another year,
according to lawyers representing both sides.
"I don't think we'll see a drill bit in the ground until
early 2014," said Tom West, an attorney at the West Firm, which
represents oil and gas companies in the state. "The outcome
remains uncertain, as it has done for the last four and a half
years, and we are very disappointed," he said of Wednesday's
The delay has pitched an increasingly vocal environmental
lobby, many of whom want no more wells drilled in the New York,
against energy companies invested in the state and frustrated by
the pause. Both sides point to neighboring Pennsylvania, also
home to the Marcellus, which has experienced a drilling boom and
attracted huge investment over the past five years, but which
has also experienced a number of drilling-related accidents.
New York's environmental impact statement was held back this
week after the Department of Health requested more time to
complete a parallel health impact study that the state wants
completed before any decision on drilling is taken.
The decision to delay, announced by the Department of
Environmental Conservation on Tuesday, prompted cheers from the
celebrity-studded environmental lobby, including New York state
resident and anti fracking activist Yoko Ono, who said "We love
you, Governor," in a public email.
But behind the scenes, both sides are bracing for legal
The Joint Landowners Coalition, a pro-fracking group, is
planning to sue the New York Department of Environmental
Conservation after Wednesday's deadline was missed, on the
grounds that delaying drilling was a "de facto taking of
property rights," according to the group's attorney Scott
And if regulations are written up and drilling is allowed to
go ahead, experts expect anti-fracking groups to also jump in.
"The courts will get a lot of lawsuits and people are going
to want to intervene on each side," said Kate Sinding, an
attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York.
In the meantime, stays on drilling permits are likely, some
attorneys said. And even if the state passes the drilling
permits, more than 150 New York cities and towns have their own
fracking bans, a fact which is already prompting lawsuits.
"This could be tied up in the courts for well over a year. I
think it is likely that it will be 2014 before we see any
permits," Sinding said.