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Stars shine a light on fracking call in New York

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 29, 2012

New York has taken center stage in the heated national debate over fracking, with both sides making last-ditch appeals to Gov. Andrew Cuomo as he nears a decision on whether to allow the popular yet controversial practice in the Empire State.

Supporters and critics are putting unprecedented pressure on the first-term executive, who risks alienating parts of his Democratic base by backing the process.

If he rejects it, he also will be vetoing thousands of new jobs and economic development.

Earlier this summer, the New York Times reported that Mr. Cuomo planned to allow fracking in portions of New York near the Pennsylvania border. A final ruling is expected within the next few weeks, possibly sooner, though the governor's office remains mum on a timetable.

But with a decision on the horizon, the environmental movement is intensifying its efforts and got a high-profile boost this week from celebrities. Led by Yoko Ono, the widow of John Lennon of the Beatles, and their son, Sean Lennon, the group Artists Against Fracking is pushing New Yorkers to sign a petition opposing the practice.

The duo appeared on CBS' "This Morning" on Wednesday to promote their cause, hours before holding a news conference in New York City.

"It's my water, my own land," Mr. Lennon said on the program. "They're going to make it dirty water. It's inherently dirty because they have over 600 chemicals they inject into the ground."

Miss Ono echoed those comments and told mothers across the nation that "if you want your children to be healthy, go with us" and oppose fracking. Robert De Niro, Gwyneth Paltrow, Graham Nash, Jackson Browne, Beck, the Beastie Boys and dozens of other movie, music and TV stars also have joined the effort.

They, along with other critics and environmental groups, continue to attack the process for its supposed pollution of water supplies, but the industry maintains that it's entirely safe when the proper safeguards are in place.

Many companies also have begun to voluntarily reveal the chemical cocktails they mix with water and sand and inject into the ground during fracking, using the mixture to blast apart rock formations and release vast amounts of untapped and previously inaccessible natural gas.

With increased pressure from anti-fracking activists bearing down on Mr. Cuomo — including a letter Wednesday from former presidential hopeful and environmentalist Ralph Nader urging the governor to ban it — others are urging him to consider the economic benefits and give the green light to drilling companies.

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has in recent days come out strongly in favor of the practice, arguing that solar and wind power are "not viable" as serious energy alternatives. He also pointed to the relatively low carbon footprint of natural gas when compared with fuels such as coal.

"So, for a practical point of view, you either are going to have coal spewing stuff into the air or you're going to use natural gas," he said at a news conference Tuesday. "If you're going to use natural gas, it will be gotten out by fracking. Anybody that thinks you can do it without [fracking] just doesn't understand how it works."

The mayor's comments were music to the ears of industry leaders, who worry that they are losing the public relations battle because of celebrity opposition and demonstrations, such as Monday's anti-fracking gathering that drew more than 1,000 protesters to the streets of Albany.

"It's really unfortunate that fracking is so poorly understood. We're just trying to get the facts and safety track record out there into everyone's hands," said Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York.

He said New Yorkers should look south to Pennsylvania and other states where unemployment rates have plummeted as a result of gas exploration.

"It's been way overdue" in New York, Mr. Gill said. "We're just standing on the sidelines watching."

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