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Moratorium: What the frack is going on?

If you've been glued to Twitter over the past four hours you're probably seeing a big burst of discussion around hydrofracking. That's because around noon, the New York Times put out an alert on its website and Twitter saying:

New York State to Lift Moratorium on Hydraulic Fracturing

Jon Campbell, who's now with Gannett's Albany bureau, but who had previously covered hydrofracking in the heart of the Marcellus Shale region at Binghamton's Press & Sun-Bulletin, was early out of the gate with reaction from the Cuomo administration, in a blog post:

But Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office quickly moved to knock the report down, with a spokesman Josh Vlasto calling it “baseless speculation and premature” in an e-mail.

When the Times did finally get their story up after making the initial pronouncement, it indicated that the Cuomo administration might lift a moratorium on fracking tomorrow - but maybe not:

Administration officials are discussing maintaining a ban on the process inside New York City’s sprawling upstate watershed, as well as a watershed used by the city of Syracuse, according to people briefed on the plan. But by allowing the process in other parts of the state, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo would open up New York to one of the fastest-growing — critics would say reckless — areas of the energy industry. When the decision will be made public is less certain. On Friday, the State Department of Environmental Conservation is due to release a long-awaited study of the process, widely known ashydrofracking. But it was unclear if the Cuomo administration would use the occasion to announce its broader policy plans related to the issue as well. The report will likely include recommendations, and then there will be a period for public comments before a final determination can be made.

For the record, the Paterson administration's moratorium on horizontal hydrofracking was already set to expire tomorrow.  

Campbell then updated his original blog post, highlighting the news about Syracuse and NYC's watershed being protected:

An outright ban in those areas would be noteworthy. The DEC had already moved to effectively banfrackingin those areas by requiring drillers to complete an individual Environmental Impact Statement for each well they sought to drill, an expensive, timely process that likely would have kept gas companies away. An outright ban, however, would make it certain.

Abrahm Lustgarten, who's done really great reporting about fracking for Pro Publica, also expressed some doubt on Twitter about whether or not the news was really news:

Not sure #fracking moratorium "change" in NY actually changes anything... we're investigating and will write shortly

And then it got weirder

Around 2 p.m., the New York Post chimed in with this story, from Fred Dicker:

A 1,000-plus page scientific and engineering report to Gov. Cuomo recommends lifting the ban on the controversial “hydrofracturing” procedure for extracting natural gas from an upstate area that crosses part of the New York City watershed, sources said today.
The much-anticipated report, from the state Department of Environmental Conservative (DEC,) recommends, however, that as an extra safety measure the city watershed area, from which the city draws some of its drinking water, and certain other sections of the Marcellus Shale deposit, be protected from the procedure.

That's curious, because we'd been led to believe by a Department of Environmental Conservation spokesperson that what would be released tomorrow would be a revision to a previous report.  Not a new document, not something that would trigger a public comment period - but a press release.

The bottom line is there's still a lot of regulatory legwork that needs to happen when we do get a second draft (be it tomorrow, or some other time), as detailed here by Gannett's Campbell:

Following the release of the DEC's second draft, a public comment period of at least 30 days has to ensue, according to an executive order that was handed down by former Gov. David Paterson and upheld by Cuomo.
After that, the DEC would have to make another set of revisions to the document and incorporate them into a final version. The first draft, which was released in 2009, attracted more than 13,000 public comments.

Until we know more ...

Not sure what all this hydrofracking fuss is about? Definitely check in with Pro Publica's reporting.  We've also been watching fracking and the Marcellus Shale very closely, and will naturally continue to keep you in the loop as we learn more.

And finally, here's some of the gallows humor that blew up Twitter as news trickled out:

From @kevinroose:

Great news! (I like the taste of methane.) RT @nytimes NYT NEWS ALERT: New York State to Lift Moratorium on Hydraulic Fracturing

From @baratunde:

I can't wait to light my tap water on fire like God intended!! RT @nytimes: New York to Lift Moratorium on Hydraulic Fracturing

From @KuEeBoNo:

New York lifts "fracking" moratorium. is it because they think gay marriage will cause the ground to open up anyway?

From @thecajunboy:

Enjoy drinking tap water while you still can, New Yorkers! ! RT @nytimes NYT NEWS ALERT: New York to Lift Moratorium on Hydraulic Fracturing

From @kw492:

Just heard the news that NY State is going to lift the moratorium on fracking. Great. I look forward to becoming chronically ill. Awesome.

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