A few hydraulic fracturing permits for natural gas drilling in New York could be approved by year-end, state Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said.

Speaking to state legislators on Tuesday, Martens said drilling permits could be issued by the DEP soon. A final decision on whether or not to allow hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking,  in New York is months away. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, imposed a de facto moratorium last year.

Emily DeDantis, a spokeswoman with the DEC, wrote in an email any approved permits will be issued after the department releases its final environmental impact statement.

We do not have a firm number but we have repeatedly said we will only review the number of permits that we can responsibly oversee given staffing levels, DeSantis wrote. Opponents have warned of environmental consequences of fracking, particularly damage to underground water supplies.

So far, New York'  DEC has only 16 drilling regulators, The Journal News reported. It would need as many as 140 more if drilling permits are issued.

The Journal News reported the DEC could issue 75 permits in the first year if fracking is permitted.

There are 61 outstanding permit applications awaiting approval. All would have to be resubmitted to comply with new regulations adopted as part of a final policy.

State environmental regulators are still reviewing tens of thousands of comments submitted to the department as part of a review last year.

Hydraulic fracturing involves mining natural gas by blasting underground rock formations with water, sand and chemicals to dislodge hydrocarbons. It has faced increased scrutiny. Environmentalists gathered in New York in November to voice their opposition to the practice.

But others, mainly from the energy industry and officials of economically depressed counties close to the border with Pennsylvania, where fracking is permitted, say hydraulic fracturing would be an economic bonus to the state.

A final draft of the state's regulations and impact statements is expected by the end of the year.