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Hydraulic Fracturing supporters, opponents face off in Albany

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Supporters and opponents of a plan to allow limited hydrofracking in New York's Southern Tier region confronted each other at the state Capitol. Karen DeWitt reports.

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Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

For months, the Cuomo Administration has been signaling that it might permit the gas drilling process known as hydrofracking in a few areas in the Marcellus Shale region. The majority of people in these communities want the gas drilling process to begin. When asked about it in the spring, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens did not rule out the possibility of a pilot-type program in communities that wished to begin fracking.
The New York Times reports that senior environmental officials now say they will very likely pursue that strategy. Five town supervisors from the Southern Tier region whose communities are in favor of fracking came to the Capitol to say they are eager to get started.
Sandy Rogers is from the town of Bradford in Steuben County, population 700, and said, “We’ve got to have something.” According to Rogers, the town has deteriorated in recent decades, and most town residents are either elderly on fixed incomes or on public assistance, and there are few services and amenities. 
“We have one restaurant, we have one gas station, and we have one bar,” said Rogers. “All connected together.” She says the only source of jobs is farming, and many farmers are on the financial edge as they struggle to sell products and pay high property taxes.  Many hold leases with the gas companies, and are eager to sell the gas that’s believed to be under their properties.
Jim Finch is Town Supervisor of Conklin, which borders the Southern Tier city of Binghamton, and has suffered from two devastating floods in recent years. He holds up a map of his town that indicates the farmers and other land owners that want gas drilling to begin with red marks. The map is nearly solid red.

“This is the only thing that’s going to save them from divvying up their farms or the acreage they have to keep surviving,” Finch said. He says “90%” are senior citizens that are paying high school and property taxes.
Outside the room where the town supervisors held their press conference, anti-fracking groups protested, chanting “don’t make our homes a sacrifice zone.” The group also rallied at Governor Cuomo’s offices. John Armstrong, with Frack Action, says people in the drilling regions will see their water poisoned and risk getting sick. “We will not carve New York State up into a sacrificial zone in the Southern Tier,” Armstrong said. “And create one giant Love Canal down there. That is not OK.”
Sioban Burke was born and raised in Steuben County and now lives near Albany. She is strongly against the limited fracking going forward in her former home, and she says it won’t bring the economic relief that supporters hope for.
“The Southern Tier has been an economic sacrifice zone in New York for a very long time already,” Burke said. “And fracking is only going to make that situation worse.”
Last June, the Cuomo Administration appeared to put approval of fracking on a fast track, moving ahead with an environmental impact statement and setting up a time line that could have led to permits by the end of 2011. But in the months since, the process has slowed to a crawl. Public hearings were held, and the Department of Environmental Conservation has said for months that it is still examining the over 66,000 comments it received.
Conklin Supervisor Finch says the people in his town are waiting, and running out of options. “If we don’t get it, we’re done,” Finch said. “Simple fact, we’re done.”
The Cuomo Administration is expected to publicly announce its plans for fracking in New York  later this year.

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