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Fracking may be approved by February

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The Cuomo Administration could be headed toward approval of hydraulic fracturing in New York by the end of February, when a 90-day extension on a rule making process ends.

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Reported by

Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

The review process for fracking has been going on for over four years now, but the end may finally be in sight. Governor Cuomo's Department of Environmental Conservation recently extended a process to create rules and regulations for the gas drilling process for another 90 days. DEC Commissioner Joe Martens says his agency may be able to wrap up all of its review work by then, and that he hopes it can.

Martens spoke at a cabinet meeting held by Governor Cuomo. Cuomo referred all of the questions about fracking to Martens, who gave brief answers.

Still outstanding are an environmental review of fracking, and an additional study of potential health impacts of fracking. Cuomo's health commissioner is conducting that review, with the help of three outside experts contracted by the state. Commissioner Martens says no action will be taken on approving fracking until that health review is done: "until the Department of Health reports, we won't make any decision."

The developments have left anti-fracking groups worried. Sandra Steingraber, an Ithaca College biologist who is with the organization Concerned Health Professionals of New York, says there's too much secrecy surrounding the health review. She says the public doesn't know what is being studied, or the parameters of the review. And she questions the brief time frame, saying there isn't any way all of the material on health impacts could be looked at so quickly.

"That's not just irrational, that is surreal," said Steingraber, who says the process so far is more "befitting a third world dictatorship, not a progressive democracy".

The gas drilling industry, as well as pro-business groups are encouraged by signs that fracking could finally go forward in the state. New York State Business Council President Health Briccetti says the review of the gas drilling process has already been "extremely comprehensive", with public hearings and nearly 80,000 public comments submitted.

"We'd like to get the ball rolling here," said Briccetti. "So we can move forward."

Briccetti says it's in the interests of everyone, including the gas drilling industry, to make sure fracking is done "safely".

A spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Conservation cautions, though, that the state has still not decided whether or not it will actually allow fracking in New York, and won't make a final decision until the health review is finished. A spokesman for the Department of Health has said the health impact review is still ongoing.

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