UPDATE: Governor Cuomo was in Syracuse today, trying to diffuse some of the speculation about what “the plan” for fracking NYS will be.  Syracuse.com quotes him as not yet decided:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said today in Syracuse that no decision has been made on whether to allow hydrofracking in New York.

“We’re waiting for DEC to finish its final report and regulations,” Cuomo said, “and that hasn’t happened yet.”

So, perhaps some of the stories about 50 to 100 wells being permitted sometime next year belong in the category of more “trial balloons.”

The rumors are beginning to build about the expected release of the Governor’s/DEC’s plan for fracking in NYS.  Recently, it was reported that “environmental groups” were being briefed on plans– in response to a hubbub that ensued when FOILED documents indicated that the DEC had been meeting with industry groups in advance of releasing its draft SGEIS, but not environmental groups.  Fred LeBrun, a reporter for the Albany Times Union, purported to have some leaked information, from said environmental groups, which he published under the headline “End of the Anti-frack World Near.”  Never mind the parochialness (in fact, worldwide, more nations are choosing the “anti-frack” option) the article may even be overstating things from a purely Capital District of NY perspective:

For those desperately hoping against hope that high volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing for natural gas will be blocked from coming into New York state, sorry. For you, the end of the world arrives before Labor Day.

Top state officials are in the process of briefing selected environmental groups on a plan to be publicly released in a couple of weeks.

More objective journalists have been less hyperbolic about the plan to be released in the near future, how “final” it is, and when and whether it would result in any companies applying for any permits to frack any time soon.  For instance, Tom Wilbur, a former Gannett Binghamton reporter who has recently had a book published about the NYS fracking fight, says this:

I have since heard different assessments from anti-fracking camps familiar with aspects of the plan. Contrary to the thrust of LeBrun’s report –- that the Cuomo plan marks the beginning of the shale gas era in New York — some anti-frackers see Cuomo’s approach as a victory because it ultimately depends on involvement from the legislature. A primary monkey wrench, according to anti-fracking activists, will be a battle over funding -– never a sure thing in Albany and subject to even more uncertainty when it comes in the form of a controversial issue in the hands of partisan lawmakers. One advocacy group, Gas Drilling Awareness of Cortland County, advised members on its website that Cuomo’s plan “requires budget and legislative action … in the next legislative session delaying a final decision into 2013.” As reported by Jon Campbell of Gannett, state estimates show the Department of Environmental Conservation will need to come up with an average of $20 million each of the next five years to regulate the natural gas industry.

The certainty of any endeavor that requires NYS’s fractious legislature to agree to five years of $20 million-a-year funding seems unlikely….. especially given the fact that the upcoming election could return control of the Senate to Democrats.  The NYS Senate’s Democratic Caucus is staunchly anti-fracking.

One of the most interesting tidbits of leaked information is that “green completions” would be required.  This rather technical issue has, in my opinion, great potential to make most of NYS extremely unlikely to ever see fracking, even were it technically permitted.  A “green completion” is a situation in which the feeder pipelines are in place prior to the fracking of a well, so that no methane is vented to the atmosphere, or “flared” (burnt) causing other emissions and greenhouse gases.  In reality, many gas wells end up being dry holes, even after fracking. If the industry must build pipelines to wells in advance of knowing whether or not those wells would produce, it will have costs in NYS far above the costs it would have in, say, Ohio or Pennsylvania.  Not that this should make Broome County residents feel secure– the areas directly adjacent to Bradford County, a “sweet spot,” and near the already-completed Millenium Pipeline, would likely be worth the gamble to the gas companies.

Which, according to the leaks, is exactly where the first permits are anticipated to be issued…. if and when the Legislature agrees.  Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, who represents the area, does not consider it a done deal at all, according to Wilbur, writing in his blog:

“There are a lot of issues that have to be worked out, and there are many of my colleagues who are not comfortable with fracking,” said Lupardo, who predicted the fight over funding would be “epic.”

And, then there is that little issue of the local bans and moratoriums that are popping up like mushrooms all across NYS.  Fred LeBrun published some misinformation on that in the Albany Times Union recently, too.  Even Wilbur is a little fuzzy on this, noting that “the industry” has filed a “notice of appeal.”  In fact, the decisions in Dryden and Middlefield have NOT been appealed…. the “notice” keeps the option to file an appeal open while Tom West, the lawyer that represented the plaintiffs (only one of which was a gas company) try to sell the right to appeal to others.  Because, they do not intend to appeal the decisions.  LeBrun has somehow mistakenly seen this as an appeal being expected to reverse the decisions any day now.

Meanwhile, the highest courts in the state will have something to say about the fracking schedule. While not making much of an issue of it, the DEC as it goes forward by the end of the year with its fracking regulations is tacitly assuming the final word will not be in favor of home rule. Currently, two state Supreme Court decisions have awarded the localities the right to ban fracking activities if they wish. That is being appealed in a mid-level court, and we should see that decision any day. Then, no doubt, considering the stakes involved, the entire debate will ascend to the Court of Appeals, probably on an expedited basis, and it will be a delight to see what the last word is. I believe home rule has a very good choice of prevailing.

If that is the case, both the governor and drilling industry will have themselves a big problem in expanding hydrofracking to anywhere near the scale they’d ultimately like.

LeBrun is assuming a lot (and correcting his published errors not at all).
This fight, according to my read, is very much still undecided.
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