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DEC: No timetable for shale gas drilling rules

ALBANY -- The state Department of Environmental Conservation has no projected date for finishing shale gas drilling rules, with completion dependent on recommendations from a health impact review, Commissioner Joe Martens said at a legislative budget hearing yesterday.

"We do not have a timetable," Martens said when state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Whitestone) asked him when the 4 1/2-year-old environmental impact review and related regulations will be completed. He said he expects to get a report from Health Commissioner Nirav Shah in "a few weeks." If Shah recommends additional measures in the regulations, Martens said it will be difficult to meet a key deadline.

If regulations aren't finalized by Feb. 27, they'll expire and will have to be put out for public comment again, which would likely extend the drilling moratorium by months. Martens acknowledged that to meet the Feb. 27 deadline, the massive environmental impact review on which the regulations are based must be published by Feb. 13.

Avella, author of a bill to prohibit gas drilling using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, asked Martens whether there was a separate health impact study being reviewed by Shah and a panel of outside experts.

Martens said they were reviewing the DEC's entire environmental study, which he said runs "several thousand pages" and outlines measures to protect human health as well as the environment.

In response to a question, Martens said DEC hired consultants to review potential seismic impacts, such as earthquakes, related to shale gas development. He said their findings are in the latest environmental impact study.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the DEC are expected to decide soon whether to lift the 4 1/2-year-old moratorium on fracking, which has made vast quantities of natural gas accessible to drillers who use the technology to crack gas-rich rock about a mile underground in the Marcellus Shale, which includes southern New York.

Hundreds of gas-drilling opponents packed the hearing room and repeatedly interrupted the hearing with applause, groans, or hissing. Many held small signs with slogans such as "No shale gas."

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