- The Washington Times - Monday, January 14, 2013

With nearby states cashing in but environmentalists and Hollywood stars urging him to back off, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is running out of time to decide whether his state will join the natural-gas fracking boom.

Friday marked the end of a 30-day public comment period the state set up on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, during which stakeholders, proponents, opponents and ordinary New Yorkers were able to weigh in with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

Mr. Cuomo, a first-term Democrat who’s rumored to be eyeing a 2016 presidential run, has faced intense pressure from both sides of the debate. His decision, which he has put off for nearly a year, carries serious political consequences.

Allowing fracking in New York will deeply anger environmentalists who have mobilized in large numbers on the left. Prohibiting it will mean the Cuomo administration has stopped the creation of potentially thousands of jobs in long-struggling parts of the state that desperately need them.

As Mr. Cuomo weighs his options, critics have mounted an unprecedented public relations campaign to keep the practice out of New York. The effort has been led by the growing “Artists Against Fracking” organization, founded by performance artist Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon, Ms. Ono’s son with Beatle John Lennon.

The duo again visited the state capital in Albany on Friday, delivering boxes of anti-fracking comments to Mr. Cuomo’s office. Ms. Ono last week penned another column in which she urged the governor to reject fracking, which she characterized as disastrous to the environment of a state she loves.

“My husband, John Lennon, and I bought a beautiful farm in rural New York more than 30 years ago. Like the rest of our state, this peaceful farming community is threatened by fracking for gas,” she wrote in a piece that appeared in the Albany Times Union and elsewhere.

“Governor Cuomo, please don’t frack New York. Don’t allow our beautiful landscapes to be ruined, or our precious and famous clean water to be dirtied,” Ms. Ono said.

But Mr. Cuomo also appears to recognize the economic benefits that await upstate New York if fracking is allowed. Residents need only look south to Pennsylvania to see how struggling small towns can be revitalized by the practice, which uses water, sand and chemicals to break apart underground shale formations and release huge quantities of fuel.

The Marcellus Shale, one of the largest underground natural gas deposits in the world, underlies parts of upstate New York. Oil and gas companies are eager to tap into it.

During his State of the State speech last week, Mr. Cuomo conceded that upstate New York is in desperate need of help, a possible sign that he’s prepared to green-light the controversial technique.

He did not, however, directly address fracking during his lengthy address.

“We need an additional focus on upstate New York,” Mr. Cuomo said. “There have been decades of decline in upstate New York. When you look at the job growth in upstate New York, frankly, it is sad and troubling.”

The governor’s speech was followed by a lengthy hearing in the state Assembly on the proposed regulations, with opponents of fracking sharply questioning industry officials on whether fracking would be a net benefit for struggling New York communities.

While his administration has largely been mum on fracking, Mr. Cuomo is developing a strategic energy plan for his state. He recently lured away Richard L. Kauffman, a former adviser to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, to serve as New York’s new energy secretary. The move may indicate that Mr. Cuomo is prepared to take dramatic steps on energy policy.

Despite that, proponents of shale gas drilling were disappointed at the lack of specifics in the governor’s speech. After months of delay, dozens of protests and multiple studies of fracking, the industry is eager to finally get an answer, and hopes it isn’t made on the basis of politics.

“As we wait, anxiously and tirelessly, for Gov. Cuomo to make a final decision whether or not to permit high volume hydraulic fracturing in New York, we can only hope that unlike many of the people [who have protested fracking in New York], Gov. Cuomo takes the time to understand the science,” said Rachael Colley and Joe Massaro, field directors with Energy in Depth, a public outreach campaign funded by the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

“The ‘state’ of New York state is grim. Natural-gas development could be the light at the end of the gloomy tunnel,” they said.

Mr. Cuomo said neither side should take his failure to address the fracking question directly in his address as an omen.

“We’re doing a review of fracking on the merits,” Mr. Cuomo told reporters a day after his speech. “We’re now looking at the health consequences of hydrofracking, as you know. That has nothing to do with the State of the State.”

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