From the Associated Press:

After more than four years of environmental review marked by escalating battles between industry officials and anti-drilling protesters, New York regulators appear likely to complete strict new regulations for shale gas development by the end of February.

But it remains to be seen if drilling actually begins. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his Department of Environmental Conservation have refused to say whether a 4 1/2-year moratorium on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, will be lifted when regulations are completed. Industry insiders say development will happen slowly if the ban is lifted. And opponents have vowed to escalate protests.

With a depressed natural-gas market and threats of lawsuits and civil disobedience from opposition groups, a shale-gas boom like that seen in Pennsylvania is unlikely to hit New York if Cuomo gives drillers the green light in 2013.

“My sense of it is, there will be some activity, but I don’t see it as being a big land grab,” said Nancy Schmitt, president of Taum Sauk Capital Management, a New York natural-resources hedge fund. “I think it’s a smaller resource (than Pennsylvania) and it’s unproven and there’s political risk. There’s a lot of reason to believe they’ll be more cautious moving into New York.”

Tom West, an Albany lawyer who represents Chesapeake Energy and other major drilling firms, said the industry expects the DEC to complete the environmental review by mid-February and finalize the regulations by the end of February.

“Then we’ll have to see what the courts say,” West said. “Environmentalists have made it clear that they’ll challenge the standards. If a judge grants an injunction on permitting while their case is pending, we’ll be shut down for another couple of years.”

If there’s no injunction, drillers would most likely be able to apply for permits under the state’s new rules and regulations.

Energy companies have hundreds of thousands of acres under lease in New York. If drilling is allowed, it would most likely start in the Southern Tier counties near the border of Pennsylvania, where the industry has thousands of wells and associated infrastructure. Both states, as well as Ohio and West Virginia, are over the gas-rich Marcellus and Utica shale deposits.