New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration is reportedly working on a plan to allow hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in five counties along the Pennsylvania border in the Marcellus Shale, but only in localities that support the practice.

According to media reports, officials with the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and others in the administration said the plan being formulated is to allow fracking in Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Steuben and Tioga counties for at least the next several years.

The officials asked to not be identified because discussions over the plan were continuing. They also said the plan could change over the next several months, and was contingent upon the DEC giving regulatory approval to fracking. The agency is expected to issue the final version of its supplemental generic environmental impact statement on the practice this summer (see Shale Daily, April 23).

“Our review of high-volume hydraulic fracturing is continuing and no decisions have been made,” DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis told NGI’s Shale Daily on Wednesday. “If high-volume hydraulic fracturing moves forward in New York, it will do so with the strictest standards in the nation.”

Four of the five New York counties lie just north of Pennsylvania’s Bradford, Susquehanna and Tioga counties, three of the Keystone State’s most productive counties at the heart of the Marcellus Shale. Additionally, previous stories by NGI’s Shale Daily indicate that Cortland, Otsego and Tompkins counties in New York could also possibly be included in Cuomo’s plan because they are in the shale play as well.

Legislators and regulators first hinted that such a plan was in possible in April (see Shale Daily, April 24). Two supporters of shale gas development, state Sens. Thomas Libous (R-Binghamton) and James Seward (R-Milford), predicted the DEC would ultimately approve fracking, but in select areas first. DeSantis also indicated that would be the approach.

Local governments across the Empire State have already started to choose sides in the fracking debate. Several have adopted a nonbinding resolution created by the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York Inc. (JLCNY) saying they believe fracking is safe and would be open to have it permitted in their communities (see Shale Daily, May 22).

“We view that as a very positive thing that has come out,” JLCNY President Dan Fitzsimmons told NGI’s Shale Daily on Wednesday. “There are towns that are for it and want to see it happen. They need it for their school districts and for their communities. They want to see this go forward. And it’s safe and responsible drilling which our DEC will give us.”

Meanwhile, according to the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York (IOGA), as of mid-May about 72 municipalities in the state have enacted moratoriums on fracking, while another 22 local governments — including the cities of Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Geneva, Ithaca, Niagara Falls and Syracuse — have banned fracking outright. The Towns of Rochester and Horseheads are the latest to mull their options (see Shale Daily, June 6; June 4).

“This is a positive step for New York State, specifically for landowners in the Southern Tier,” IOGA spokeswoman Cherie Messore told NGI’s Shale Daily on Wednesday.

Travis Windle, spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, concurred. “While these reports may be somewhat welcomed news for American consumers and in particular New York landowners seeking to safely produce their privately owned minerals, it nonetheless raises more questions about the ongoing regulatory uncertainty in the state,” he told NGI’s Shale Daily on Wednesday. “New York should move forward with common sense regulations to ensure these economic and environmental benefits are realized.”

Environmental groups also cautiously backed Cuomo’s plan.

“The governor appears to be headed in the right direction with a ‘go slow’ approach to shale gas development in New York State,” said Mark Brownstein, chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Energy Program. “[We believe] a county-based approach could give those communities most directly impacted by shale gas development a central role in the state’s regulatory roll out strategy. We think that shale gas development should only proceed where strong regulations are in place, with the trained personnel and resources necessary to implement and enforce them. Starting in a few counties and communities that welcome development and are prepared to work with the state in managing it is a logical way to proceed.”

But Brownstein added that a lot was still not known about the plan. “Of course, the devil will be in the details,” he said. “Press leaks are not official proposals, and we will reserve judgment until we see something official, in writing. There is much we still don’t know about how New York plans to regulate waste water, air pollution and fugitive methane emissions, among several other important challenges to the environment and public health, and we need to see answers to these important questions.”