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Election over, will Cuomo decide on fracking?

Karen DeWitt/WXXI

Now that elections are over, supporters and opponents of hydro fracking are wondering what will be Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s next move on the long stalled gas drilling process in New York state.

New York has had a de facto moratorium on fracking for several years. Most recently Cuomo has said he’s awaiting results of an over two-year long health review being conducted by his administration.

During a debate in October, Cuomo said the review would finally be completed by the end of the calendar year.

But just one day before elections, Cuomo seemed to be once again moving away from that date. He said an end of the year deadline was set between him and former Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah.

Shah resigned in the spring to take another job. Cuomo says he has not yet talked with Acting Health Commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, about the status of the fracking health review. 

“I have not had the conversation with him since Dr. Shah left,” Cuomo said. “We had this little issue pop up called Ebola that we were dealing with.”

Zucker has been on the job for more than half a year, the Ebola concerns erupted in October.

Karen Moreau, with the New York State Petroleum Council, says the governor has every logical reason to go ahead with fracking, particularly in communities that want it.

“At this point, politics really need to be put aside, the elections are over,” Moreau said. “A decision has to be made on this issue.” 

She points out that nearly all of the politicians elected in the state’s Southern Tier in the November elections are pro gas drilling, including a congressional race where the losing candidate, Democrat Martha Roberts ran on an anti-fracking platform. Tom Reed won re-election in that race. 

And she says the state’s highest court has already ruled, in June, that localities that don’t want to drill, can vote to ban it.

“It’s being done safely right across the border from many of these towns, in Pennsylvania,” Moreau said. “The people in the Southern Tier that see it a short distance away, that know people that are experiencing what natural gas development looks like, they will have the final say.”

Cuomo has offered no information about what exactly is being studied.

Peter Iwanowicz, with Environmental Advocates of New York, is against fracking. He says the first step needed, before any decisions are made, is more transparency in what he calls the “private, secretive” health review process.

“They really should take a page from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” Iwanowicz said.

He says the EPA conducts public meetings, hears from industry representatives and environmentalists, then issues a final report for everyone to see.  He says even if politicians don’t always go along with the EPA recommendations; at least the science is conducted “unfettered by politics.”

And Iwanowicz says he’s against allowing fracking even in communities that want it, because the current science has not proved that the process is safe.

“The public needs to be assured that if they’re going to go forward with anything on fracking, that health won’t be impacted,” Iwanowicz said. “I personally don’t think you could make that decision based on what I’ve seen in the last six years.”

The group Concerned Health Professionals of New York is calling on Cuomo to enact a three to five year moratorium on fracking, saying “emerging scientific data show harms and inherent problems with drilling and fracking.”

A spokesman for the governor, Rich Azzopardi, clarified the governor's recent remarks on fracking, saying the administration is definitely on track to have the health review completed by Dec. 31.

Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio.