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If we decide as a state to not pursue it at this point, the gas isn't going away. In fact, it might be worth more in the long run.

Hydrofracking debate continues

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Gov. David Paterson issued a sort of split decision on hydrofracking -- the convtroversial methods of shattering shale underground to release natural gas. Last weekend he vetoed an outright ban on all natural gas drilling. But he extended a moratorium on the most controversial technique till July to give the state Department of Environmental Conservation more time to review environmental impacts.

Meanwhile, opponents fear there will be a new front line to defend, another shale deposit that reaches farther into western New York than the well-know Marcellus shale does. The Innovation Trail's Daniel Robsion reports.

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Last week about three dozen or so anti-fracking protestors, including a sign-toting Santa Claus and someone dressed up as a tree , marched outside of National Fuel’s headquarters in downtown Buffalo. Security guards inside energy company’s building filmed from the second floor. David Harter of Buffalo says his city, although far from potential drilling sites, will be negatively affected if drilling begins in New York.

“We’re in a position in Buffalo to fight it,” Harter said. “We have a community of people that are willing to stand up and that are going to stand up. It’s going to affect everyone everywhere if the water is contaminated.”

Most of the controversy over fracking centers on the potential risk to water quality.  Crews drill thousands of feet vertically and horizontally, shoot millions of gallons of pressurized water and toxic chemicals down the hole. The shale cracks, releasing natural gas. But the chemical-laced water remains. Other states allow the practice under federal guidelines.  New York does not, but could, pending a study by the  Department of Environmental Conservation. Either way, billions of dollars are at stake.

The Buffalo Niagara Partnership is a Chamber of Commerce-like organization which put fracking on its regional agenda for the first time this year. It acts as a radar screen of sorts for those in the business of economic development. Craig Turner, vice president of the group, says Pennsylvania has added thousands of jobs and millions in tax revenue thanks to fracking.

“That’s not to diminish the questions of the environmental community,” Turner said, “but the EPA has okayed it and Pennsylvania making good on the opportunity.”

The industry enjoys light regulation currently. But anecdotal evidence suggests the practice potentially poses many environmental and lifestyle issues.

Turner says some see the natural gas boom leaving the harbor without New York on board because of the current hold on fracking.

But Martin Casstevens says that may not be the case. He’s with Directed Energy, a University of Buffalo energy think tank. “The Marcellus isn’t the end of this,” Casstevens says. “There’s shale deposits all over the world. And if we can develop expertise here in New York State as a result of working on the Marcellus around the globe…If we decide as a state to not pursue it at this point, the gas isn’t going away. In fact, it might be worth more in the long run.”

Buffalo-based Norse Energy is making that exact bet. The international company recently relocated its international headquarters to the city. CEO Dennis Holbrook says his well-paid staff of 50 could easily double if the wager pays off.  “A lot of the design work, a lot of the planning, a lot of the overall corporate direction is coming out of the Buffalo office,” he said.

While most of the attention is on the Marcellus shale downstate, fracking one day may actually arrive locally. Buffalo and much of western New York sits on the Utica Shale formation. Exploration of that formation is still years off. Whether or not that happens will depend on what drilling regulation look like when the governor’s moratorium is lifted.

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