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N.Y. green chief promises caution at raucous fracking hearing

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Anti-fracking activists on Monday continued their public push to keep the gas-drilling practice out of New York by repeatedly interrupting a legislative hearing on the subject.

Those critics, who are pushing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to permanently ban the successful yet controversial process from the Empire State, packed a joint state House and Senate budget hearing, where Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens testified.

The lengthy question-and-answer session focused heavily on fracking, which may soon begin in upstate New York if Mr. Cuomo — a first-term Democrat rumored to be mulling a 2016 presidential run — elects to take advantage of the state’s natural gas deposits.

The activists cheered when Mr. Martens was challenged by lawmakers and scoffed loudly at several of his answers.

Eventually, they were reprimanded by the chair of the joint panel, who threatened to end the hearing if Mr. Martens continued to be interrupted.

As the state’s environmental chief, Mr. Martens has been in charge of the lengthy reviews conducted by the Cuomo administration. Those reviews are meant to determine whether fracking can be done without harm to the environment. Similar studies have been conducted in Pennsylvania, Ohio and other states now taking full advantage of the fracking boom.

Mr. Martens assured skeptical lawmakers his office could handle the process and make sure it’s done safely.

“If we proceeded, it would only be very slowly. We would not invite thousands of wells into New York simultaneously or overnight,” Mr. Martens said.

Recent polls have found New Yorkers evenly split on whether to allow fracking in their state, though much of the opposition comes from New York City. When only upstate is counted, fracking has high levels of support.

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