Protesters rally against hydrofracking as the legislative session winds down...

Protesters rally against hydrofracking as the legislative session winds down at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y. (June 20, 2012) Credit: AP

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is expected to "shortly" issue a final environmental impact statement on hydrofracking, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday, which would be a critical step toward allowing the controversial gas drilling method to begin.

"We don't have a hard date but it will be done shortly," Cuomo said during a radio interview in which he talked about the legislative session that ended Thursday. "It's better that we do it when the legislature's not here because I don't want a political discussion."

The administration reportedly plans to allow hydrofracking to proceed in five counties in a region along the Pennsylvania border called the Southern Tier, on a limited basis and only in municipalities that want it. The governor has not publicly stated his position on the issue, saying it should be determined by science.

Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst), who chairs the Assembly's environmental committee, said he was disappointed that the state will release its findings and revised regulations while the legislature is out of session, considering the "intense interest in this issue statewide."

"The next step should be for everyone to read what DEC has produced, have a chance to react to it and then everybody take a deep breath and figure out where we should go from here," Sweeney said. "Now we're gone and we won't have that opportunity."

The Democratic-led Assembly passed several bills to regulate hydrofracking this year, but the Republican-led Senate has not passed any similar legislation.

Hydrofracking is a drilling method that releases natural gas in shale formations by pumping a mix of water, sand and chemicals deep into the earth. Other states' experiences have raised questions about how to dispose of drilling wastewater, which can contain toxic chemicals and could contaminate drinking water.

Katherine Nadeau, water and natural resources program director for Environmental Advocates of New York, said the state has not looked at the environmental problems her group identified, as it appears poised to let hydrofracking begin.

"Things like health impact, things like cumulative impact, appropriate waste treatment, those issues remain," Nadeau said.

Cherie Messore, spokeswoman for the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, an industry trade group, said the energy companies were eager to begin drilling.

"On behalf of all of our members who have so much at stake, and the people of New York State who have so much to gain from safe, responsible exploration for natural gas, we would like to get it going," she said.

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