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Experts: Gas drilling won't start in N.Y. in 2012


JOHNSON CITY -- Area experts on natural gas drilling agree: New York's swath of the Marcellus Shale isn't likely to be tapped in 2012.

Panelists on both sides of the issue discussed the future of natural gas drilling in the Southern Tier at a roundtable discussion hosted by Press & Sun-Bulletin on Thursday at the Gannett Central N.Y. Production Facility.

"It doesn't look like the issue is going to be resolved this year, based on what we've heard coming from the governor and based on the fact that there hasn't been a budget request for it," said Brian Shea, legislative director for Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, D-Endwell.

High-volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing -- a technique used to unlock large quantities of natural gas from shale formations -- has been on hold in New York since 2008 during an ongoing review by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The DEC's lengthy review process has frustrated energy interests and environmental advocates alike, and experts said Thursday it isn't likely to come to a conclusion by the year's end.

"Right now in New York state, virtually no gas companies are interested in signing leases," said Robert Wedlake, a partner at Hinman Howard & Kattell, which represents six landowner coalitions. "Gas companies have other alternatives: They can go to Pennsylvania; they can go to Ohio."

Gas companies -- and possibilities for economic growth -- have been leaving the state as pessimism grows about New York's regulatory climate, said Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York.

But Walter Hang, owner of Ithaca-based Toxics Targeting, said the delays aren't without reason. He and other environmental advocates will continue to scrutinize the DEC's proposed regulatory documents, he said, "until a really meaningful plan is in place to make sure that irreparable harm doesn't occur."

"I'm unhappy, unfortunately, that it isn't going better, faster," Hang said.

Tom Wilber, a former Press & Sun-Bulletin reporter and author of a forthcoming book on the shale gas rush, noted the DEC has to review some 40,000 public comments it has received before it finalizes a key regulatory policy document and moves toward issuing permits.

"My prediction is, I don't see it being finalized this year," Wilber said