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Frack Tracks: New York Regulations Delayed, Fracking Could Still Begin Soon

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Natural gas suporters expressed further frustrations and anti-fracking activists shared a cautious sigh of relief on Tuesday, as news broke that regulations for shale gas drilling in New York state will be further delayed.

Officials conducting a controversial health impact study have asked for more time to fully address potential health impacts. The Associated Press reports:

The Department of Environmental Conservation had faced a deadline Wednesday to complete its 4 1/2-year-old environmental impact study of drilling for gas using high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said Tuesday that the deadline will be missed, meaning regulations due to be released Feb. 27 will be delayed.

In an emailed statement to The Huffington Post, Marcellus Shale Coalition spokesman Steve Forde expressed his disappointment with the state's stall. "Families, consumers, and workers across the nation are realizing the economic, environmental, and energy security benefits of safe and responsible natural gas development," he said. "Leaders in Albany have had a clear choice for some time now: move forward with common sense regulations that will create more jobs, higher revenues, and cleaner, more affordable energy, or prolong a hurry-up-and-wait process that places the state further on the sidelines at a time when its residents can afford it least."

Anti-fracking activists, meanwhile, welcomed news of the delay and what they expect to be a more rigorous health study.

"Thank you, Governor Cuomo, for taking time to do a more complete health study," said Yoko Ono in a statement. "We look forward to the results, and time for public comment afterwards. We love you, Governor."

Biologist and writer, Sandra Steingraber, offered a similar take on the news. "Commissioner Shah is correct that the state needs to take the time to do a comprehensive study of the health effects of fracking to protect the public health," she said in a statement. "As he notes, no comprehensive studies have been done to date and New York must do so before making a decision about fracking. We are confident that such a review will show that the costs of fracking in terms of public health are unacceptable. Commissioner Shah has indicated how important it is to do this right, which means bringing the public and New York State health experts into this process."

Martens of the DEC told the AP that he expects the health commissioner, Nirav Shah, to complete the review in a few weeks. The state could still issue fracking permits without final regulations if the review comes back suggesting that natural gas drilling is safe.

As Bloomberg reports, this "delay" in the health study may actually "expedite" drilling. The state could grant permits within weeks, rather than months. Bloomberg goes on to report:

If the state issues permits without formal rules, it "will be met with fierce opposition," Roger Downs, conservation director for the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, said in an e-mailed statement. "We trust that the DEC will take this opportunity to re-evaluate the legality of using an environmental-review process as a de facto regulatory program," Downs said.

"Given the DEC commissioner's assurances that this delay will not mean delays for issuing permits, we respect the administration's need to finish this last study and finally come to a resolution," Karen Moreau, executive director of the New York State Petroleum Council, said in an e-mailed statement. "We also know that it can and must end with a decision to move forward with creating jobs."