- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 14, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Political challengers to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo are making pilgrimages to Pennsylvania drilling sites to argue for and against hydraulic fracturing for natural gas - and highlight Cuomo’s reluctance to weigh in on a subject that almost evenly divides voters.

Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins opposes the drilling technique, also called fracking, and last week visited sites in Pennsylvania to highlight what he says are negative health and environmental impacts.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino supports fracking and plans to visit a Pennsylvania fracking operation later this month to show what he says are the economic benefits.

“President Obama supports hydro-fracking,” Astorino told a gathering of business leaders this month, saying that if he’s elected “we’ll move forward with the proper environmental safeguards in place and join the 30 other states in harvesting this abundant energy resource beneath the ground.”

Meanwhile, Cuomo steers clear. A long-awaited decision on whether to allow fracking in New York has been delayed until after the Nov. 4 election. Cuomo says he wants to see the scientific evidence before weighing in. He’s also said he will visit communities where fracking is allowed before deciding whether to lift the state’s moratorium.

“On a weekly basis, you can get academics and reports saying it’s totally safe, and then the next week you get a report saying it’s the most dangerous thing since a nuclear explosion,” Cuomo said last week.

“I’m not a scientist,” he said. “I’m not going through the data and the research myself, but they are.”

Pennsylvania has seen a boom in drilling in the Marcellus Shale, a formation that also lies below New York’s Southern Tier.

Polls show New Yorkers are nearly evenly split on the issue. A statewide Quinnipiac Poll in August found that 48 percent of voters oppose fracking, while 43 percent support it. The Aug. 14-17 poll included 1,034 voters with a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

Polls suggest support is highest upstate and lowest in New York City.

Astorino and Hawkins both attack Cuomo for his cautious approach.

“I’m the only anti-fracking candidate,” Hawkins told reporters Monday. “Cuomo is sitting on the fence waiting for the election to be over.”

In legislative races fracking often comes down to geography. Many candidates in the Southern Tier support drilling; candidates in New York City often oppose it.

Groups on both sides are pressuring candidates and claiming to have the support of voters and the experts.

“Grassroots opposition to fracking has continued to grow in strength throughout this election cycle - and it demands that Governor Cuomo and elected officials must listen to the science,” said Alex Beauchamp of New Yorkers Against Fracking.

Dan Fitzsimmons, president of the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, said members of his pro-fracking group also are frustrated at the delays.

“It’s all about politics,” he said.


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