New York State close to deciding on fracking

natural gas, well, fracking, pennsylvania
A natural gas extraction well in Pennsylvania
CBS News

(CBS News) The method of extracting natural gas from deep in the earth known as "fracking" has dramatically changed the U.S. energy industry, but as more wells are drilled, protests have continued.

The latest flashpoint is New York State, which has been a fracking holdout. CBS News has learned that New York is close to making a decision about fracking and is expected to roll out guidelines after Labor Day

As the public awaits the decision, the debate continues.

The days are long and grueling for upstate New York dairy farmers John and Teresa Lyons.

Lyons Hill Farm -- in the family for over 150 years -- is struggling. A 2009 barn fire put the family into debt, and recently milk prices have sunk. The Lyons say they are losing $7000 per month

"The way the economy is there would be a great chance to lose the entire farm," Teresa said.

The Lyons are relying on one hope: that New York State makes a decision soon that would allow gas drilling on their farm.

"The money would be a great blessing," John Lyons said.

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The Lyons' farm sits on top of the Marcellus Shale Formation containing natural gas deep underground that stretches from Tennessee to New York.

The gas is extracted by way of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking", which involves millions of gallons of sand, water and potentially toxic chemicals blasted deep into the earth, shattering underground shale and freeing natural gas for collection.

On the Pennsylvania side, property owners are expected to make more than $2 billion this year leasing land to the gas drilling companies. But in New York, fracking has been on hold for four years.

"When I think about the money I'm standing on, it would be like someone standing on the bank knowing they have million dollars in it and no access to it," Teresa Lyons said.

Environmental concerns have led to closer scrutiny of fracking. In Albany, New York's Department of Environmental Conservation -- responsible for writing the regulations - says if high-volume hydraulic fracturing moves forward in New York, it will do so with the strictest standards in the nation.

Many New Yorkers, however, are saying not-so-fast.

Sandra Steingraber, an environmental scientist, said that anyone -- even the Energy Secretary, the president and the EPA -- who says fracking can be done safely is wrong.

"When you shatter the bedrock, it's not only full of methane, it's full of benzene, it's full of tylulene, its full of a lot of poisonous hydrocarbons. You blow that up and you put cocktail straws down into the ground to try to get the methane up, you create portals of contamination for other chemicals to come up into our ground water, aquifers and into air," Steingraber said.

But the Lyons said they've seen safe drilling across the border and they'll take their chances to save the farm.

"I drive to Pennsylvania and do not see a difference in the hay crop or the corn crop growing over there, just that they have a new tractor," John Lyons said.