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Foes of 'fracking' hail review extension

Gas-drilling opponents are praising the state's environmental commissioner for extending an advisory panel's review of hydraulic fracturing of gas wells in New York's part of the Marcellus Shale formation.

Joe Martens, who heads the Department of Environmental Conservation, said after the panel's closed-door meeting Tuesday that it's taking longer than anticipated to develop a report on the state and local resources that must be in place before his agency will issue permits for the so-called "hydro-fracking," which stimulates production of shale gas wells by injecting chemical-laced water at high pressure.

Gas-drilling opponents fear the anticipated high volume of gas well development in southern New York will cause environmental harm, pollute drinking water and degrade the quality of life. Supporters say that the fears aren't backed up by facts and that the industry will bring much-needed jobs and revenue to the state.

Martens had previously predicted permits would be issued in 2012. But when asked by reporters Tuesday if a 2012 start to drilling was realistic, he said, "That is really hard to predict."

"Based on Commissioner Martens' remarks [Tuesday], Gov. [Andrew M.] Cuomo and the state are sending a message to New Yorkers -- your concerns about fracking are being heard," environmental advocates said in a statement Wednesday. "New York is showing a willingness to slow the rush to drill so the impacts of fracking can be fully considered."

Brad Gill, an industry representative on the panel, said he's optimistic drilling will start in 2012.

The advisory group, made up of environmental, industry and local government representatives, is tasked with developing recommendations for a system of oversight, monitoring and enforcement. It is collecting information from various state agencies to assess how much they will need in additional resources when drilling begins.

The panel was set up as part of the state's environmental review to develop permitting guidelines and regulations. A public comment period on that review and proposed regulations is under way until Dec. 12. Four public hearings are scheduled in November.

Natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale region of southern New York has been on hold since 2008, when the state's environmental review was launched.