Gas industry presses Cuomo on fracking

A new poll shows New York voters evenly

A new poll shows New York voters evenly split on natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region. (Dec. 5, 2012) (Credit: AP)

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ALBANY -- New York's natural gas producers said Monday that five years of waiting for the state to green-light high-volume hydraulic fracturing has put them "in crisis" -- and the uncertainty could stretch until after the 2014 election.

In the face of environmental opposition, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has retreated from his initial emphasis on the gas industry's job-growing potential for the depressed Southern Tier. His administration has put off several deadlines as environmental groups have called for a ban. On the other side, the industry bemoaned the lack of movement as other states have expanded natural-gas drilling.

In a letter to the governor Monday, the head of the Independent Oil and Gas Association, said of the delays: "We need to know why."

"We are tremendously anxious that a profound misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the processes for indigenous natural gas production may now prevail in New York, rather than fair consideration based on science and real-world experience," Brad Gill, executive director of IOGA, wrote.

Cuomo has said his decision will be based on science. In February, Cuomo again delayed a decision, ordering more study of the latest research on public health impacts. The governor, known for his strong control of state agencies, has said the state's health commissioner would decide the issue.

On Friday, Cuomo noted voters are evenly divided on fracking and called it the most "emotional" issue facing the state. "There's no winning -- in some ways there are no ways of losing because it's literally 50-50," the Democrat said on public radio.

Because neither side has gathered a commanding majority of supporters, postponing a decision until after the 2014 gubernatorial election could avoid offending large blocks of voters, political experts say. A New York Post report Monday suggested Cuomo would do just that.

The newspaper quoted the state Business Council's president as saying Cuomo had "basically" told her group he was concerned that if he approved fracking, the State Legislature would enact a drilling moratorium by a veto-proof majority.

A spokesman for the Business Council had no immediate comment. Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi denied the report.

The Democrat-led Assembly has backed legislation that would put a moratorium on fracking. But the measure is not expected to pass the Senate, which is jointly controlled by 30 Republicans and five breakaway Democrats.

High-volume fracking blasts shale with huge amounts of water, chemicals and sand to free the natural gas trapped within the rock. Environmentalists say fracking releases methane gas and creates large volumes of chemically laced water that must be stored and treated.

Fracking supporters note the Obama administration supports natural gas as a clean fuel. Supporters also say consumers and manufacturers have benefited from the plunge in natural gas prices created by the fracking boom in other states, which has lifted their economies.

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