New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration is reportedly working on a plan to allow horizontal drilling using high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in five counties in the Southern Tier of the state, but only in localities that support the practice.

According to reports, the Cuomo administration and officials with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) are formulating a plan to permit limited unconventional drilling in Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Steuben and Tioga counties, an economically distressed part of the state.

The officials, who asked to not be identified because discussions were continuing, said the plan could change and was contingent upon the DEC giving regulatory approval to high-volume fracking. The DEC may issue the final version of its supplemental generic environmental impact statement about high-volume fracking this summer (see NGI, Oct. 3, 2011).

“Our review of high-volume hydraulic fracturing is continuing and no decisions have been made,” DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said. “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 Marcellus Shale counties. The Marcellus also extends into New York’s Cortland, Otsego and Tompkins counties.

Legislators and regulators in April first hinted that a limited drilling plan (see NGI, April 30). Since then, local governments across the Empire State have been choosing sides on the issue. Several have adopted nonbinding resolutions created by the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York Inc. (JLCNY), indicating that they believe fracking is safe and that they would be open to it in their communities (see NGI, May 28).

“We view that as a very positive thing that has come out,” JLCNY President Dan Fitzsimmons said. “There are towns that are for it and want to see it happen. They need it for their school districts and for their communities.”

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 NGI, June 4).

“This is a positive step for New York State, specifically for landowners in the Southern Tier,” IOGA spokeswoman Cherie Messore said.

Travis Windle, spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, said the plan “raises more questions about the ongoing regulatory uncertainty in the state,” but “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 energy program. “Of course, the devil will be in the details. Press leaks are not official proposals, and we will reserve judgment until we see something official, in writing.”

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