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How many delays?

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Another fracking deadline comes and goes in New York state.

The state Health Department said Tuesday it will not complete its review of the controversial drilling process in time to allow the Department of Environmental Conservation to issue regulations on hydrofracking by the end of the month. Hydraulic fracturing has been on hold now for more than four years while the DEC and Health Department study the impacts of injecting tremendous volumes of water mixed with undisclosed chemicals into rock deep underground to break it up and release natural gas in the Marcellus Shale beneath Pennsylvania and southern New York.

An indecisive Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has repeatedly promised a decision on whether to open New York state to hydrofracking, only to put it off as decision time approached.

The DEC had been expected to issue regulations last Nov. 29, but it had to seek an extension because the Health Department study undertaken last summer was not completed as anticipated. The governor then requested a 90-day extension of the deadline to Feb. 27.

Now the Health Department review of the DEC’s report and hydrofracking’s potential impact on public health by three outside experts will not be completed in time to meet the approaching deadline for DEC regulations. This would be the second Health Department study since a previous analysis that had been kept secret concluded it could be done safely.

Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah says the ongoing review will be ready “in a few weeks.” He said the same thing last month. DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens says his agency also hired experts to determine if hydrofracking causes earthquakes. He said at a recent legislative hearing that the DEC does not have a timetable on when regulations will be issued. If they are not finalized by Feb. 27, they will have to be put out for public comment again.

As of now, then, it appears that no one in state government can say definitively when a decision will be made. Gov. Cuomo was derisively referred to as Hamlet on the Shale in a New York Times article for his indecision, a comparison to his father, Mario, who was dubbed Hamlet on the Hudson for the same reason.

The heated controversy continues to divide communities, particularly in the Southern Tier, which would most likely see the immediate benefits of hydrofracking. It was an issue in last fall’s elections that saw victories by pro-drilling candidates across the region. Ardent supporters and vocal opponents have so dominated meetings of the Sanford town board that it has taken the extreme action of shutting off any discussion of hydrofracking during the public comment period of its meetings.

Hydrofracking has brought huge economic benefits to neighboring Pennsylvania with jobs, royalties to landowners, investment in supporting businesses and revenue to the state. Meanwhile, revenue, jobs and New Yorkers in search of them go elsewhere.

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