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New York enters sixth year of defacto fracking moratorium

New York today enters into the sixth year of a defacto moratorium on whether to allow hydrofracking in the state. Business and industry groups are expressing dismay over what they say is too long a delay.

In the summer of 2008, then Gov. David Paterson and the legislature imposed an actual moratorium in New York on the gas drilling process known as hydrofracking. After it expired, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s environmental agency began an extended review.

That study has never been completed. For the past 10 months, a decision has been put on hold while Cuomo’s health commissioner conducts what he says is a health review. No details have been revealed.

Brian Sampson, with the pro-business group Unshackle Upstate, calls it “paralysis by analysis.”

“It’s very disingenuous to the people to say that here we are five years later and we haven’t been able to make a decision,” Sampson said.

Sampson praises Cuomo for advancing the state’s yogurt, beer and wine industries, but he says that won’t create enough new employment to make up for the loss of the manufacturing and other  more high paying  jobs. Sampson says to claim otherwise is just “false promises.”

The Joint Landowners Coalition, a group based in the Southern Tier who wants to lease their land to gas drillers, says the review period in other states has been significantly shorter. In Ohio, it took just eight months, in Illinois, 17 months, and in California, two years. All three states are likely to approve fracking soon.

Karen Moreau, with the Petroleum Council, says when the governor took office, she expected he would make a decision early on in his term. She says the only possible conclusion, three years later, is that the governor is delaying for political reasons.

Moreau says Cuomo is afraid of offending fracking opponents, who she says “threaten” the governor with political retribution.   

“I think it’s become more of a political stalemate than anything else,” Moreau said.  

Sampson and Moreau say while there’s been no hydrofracking in New York, other things have been happening during these past five years. More people are leaving the state.

“It’s just unfortunate that the untold story are those  people quietly leaving New York,” Moreau said.

Environmental groups are pleased that there’s been no decision to go ahead with fracking, but they remain concerned because they say despite the five year delay, their questions and concerns have still not been answered.

Travis Proulx, with Environmental Advocates, says the Cuomo Administration review process has been shrouded in secrecy.  

“Nobody knows what’s going on,” Proulx said. “We don’t know who is looking at what, we don’t know what considerations they are looking at. We don’t know, ultimately, how the final decision is going to be made.”

Proulx says there’s also been no answer on the hundreds of thousands of comments the  public has submitted to the Department of Environmental Conservation.

“We don’t know if their comments are even being read, or reviewed or considered in any type of way,” Proulx said.

Environmental Advocates is seeking another two year moratorium on fracking while a more definitive assessment is conducted. The Assembly has approved a measure, but it has stalled in the state Senate. Proulx says despite the now five year delay, New Yorkers still don’t know about potential public health effects.

“A decision that’s made uninformed could have disastrous consequences,” he said.

A spokesman for Cuomo says there’s nothing new on when a decision on fracking could come.

Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio.
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