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New York Proposes Permanent Ban on Fracking Near Watershed and State Land

5:31 p.m.: This post has been updated.

The New York Times reported today that New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo is planning to lift a "ban" on hydraulic fracturing. But whatever the governor announces tomorrow, it's unlikely to change the de facto moratorium on drilling in the state that began nearly three years ago, when the state committed to a fresh environmental review.

New York Department of Environment Conservation officials have repeatedly said they cannot issue any new drilling permits until the state completes the environmental review, ordered in 2008 by Cuomo's predecessor, David Paterson. The final review will not be complete for a few months at the earliest.

Despite the department's assurances, Paterson signed an executive order last year stating that large-volume hydraulic fracturing will not be allowed until the review is complete. As we reported at the time, Patterson's move was largely symbolic. His executive order never used the word "moratorium," and the law requiring environmental review was already in place.

It appears as though it's that symbolic ban that is at play now.

Cuomo has asked the DEC to complete its review by tomorrow. According to Michael Bopp, a DEC spokesman, the department will give the governor a version of the revised environmental review, as requested. But that update will not be the official draft that still has to work its way through the legal permitting process, Bopp said. He did not say when that draft will be released.

Once it is, state law requires that the draft go through a public comment period of at least 30 days before regulators can write the final rules.

All of which means it will likely be at least a few months—perhaps next spring—before the type of hydraulic fracturing used in the Marcellus Shale can be allowed in the state, with or without a ban from the governor.

We've put out emails and a call to the governor's office but haven't received a response yet.

Update: New York's Department of Environmental Conservation just announced it will recommend prohibiting high-volume hydraulic fracturing in and around the watersheds serving New York City and Syracuse. It will also recommend banning the practice on state-owned lands and in primary aquifers. Elsewhere, drilling would be allowed once the final rules are in place. In the release, the department said it plans to hold a 60-day public comment period on the proposal, beginning in August. The proposal would also require public disclosure of chemicals used in fracking.

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