Shale gas drilling before Labor Day?

This week's must-read story for upstate New York: An editorial by Times Union columnist Fred LeBrun, titled "End of the anti-frack world is near." In it, LeBrun claims that a gubernatorial plan to greenlight hydraulic fracturing by the time the leaves start turning is a done deal:

For those desperately hoping against hope that high volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing for natural gas will be blocked from coming into New York state, sorry. For you, the end of the world arrives before Labor Day.

Top state officials are in the process of briefing selected environmental groups on a plan to be publicly released in a couple of weeks. It's a plan that unsurprisingly endorses hydrofracking, initially on a limited basis, supposedly under the tightest regulatory and permitting requirements in the country.

Like a widely-cited New York Times story on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's gas drilling strategy earlier this summer, LeBrun's column is based on insider knowledge and contacts with anonymous sources within the Cuomo administration. No public version of Cuomo's gas drilling "roadmap" -- which both the New York Times and the Times Union characterize as a limited initial phase, restricted to towns that explicitly embrace shale gas drilling -- has yet been released.

(It's worth mentioning that LeBrun calls the earlier New York Times story a "trial balloon." The leaking of details about the state's plans for gas drilling to prominent news outlets is almost certainly being done deliberately, with the Cuomo administration's approval.)

LeBrun writes that the plan has evolved since June, when the New York Times first reported on it:

What does differ from the trial balloon is that it seems the administration has concluded it cannot rely on the strength of existing laws and current DEC funding in this area to adequately protect the state, its citizens and resources. For fracking to go forward, the Legislature will be called on for extra DEC funding and to pass a package of yet unspecified regulatory bills. This will make the Legislature a full partner in the charms and risks of hydrofracking, and should make for an interesting and shifting dynamic as we go forward.

LeBrun apparently does not believe that having to ask the state legislature for funding is enough of an obstacle to delay the onset of drilling any further. But longtime shale gas reporter Tom Wilber, author of the 2012 book Under The Surface, takes a different view. From a post yesterday on Wilber's blog, Shale Gas Review:

I have since heard different assessments from anti-fracking camps familiar with aspects of the plan. Contrary to the thrust of LeBrun’s report –- that the Cuomo plan marks the beginning of the shale gas era in New York -- some anti-frackers see Cuomo’s approach as a victory because it ultimately depends on involvement from the legislature. A primary monkey wrench, according to anti-fracking activists, will be a battle over funding -– never a sure thing in Albany and subject to even more uncertainty when it comes in the form of a controversial issue in the hands of partisan lawmakers.

For its part, the gas drilling industry has not been making much noise about LeBrun's statement that the drilling will begin before Labor Day. Energy In Depth, an industry news outlet that frequently comments on high-profile natural gas drilling stories, has not weighed in on the Times Union story. Neither has the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York.