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Photo: The Innovation Trail via innovationtrail.org

Pro-, anti-fracking activists spar with ads, await decision

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Groups for and against hydraulic fracturing are gearing up for an announcement by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's environmental officials on whether the natural gas drilling process will be permitted in New York on a limited basis. But the groups, who are running ads, may have to wait a little longer.

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Reported by

Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

Industry and business groups that support fracking have been running advertisements for the past several weeks, featuring real people who live in the Marcellus Shale region in New York’s Southern Tier and who say they want the natural gas drilling to begin.

“I support the safe and responsible development of shale gas because it will be good for my county,” says a woman in the ad, who says she managed the Elmira-Corning airport.

Cherie Messore, with the Independent Oil and Gas Association, a gas industry lobby group that is helping pay for the ads, says the spots are aimed at showing there’s support for fracking.

“They’re sincere, unscripted genuine comments,” said Messore.

Katherine Nadeau is with Environmental Advocates, which has been fighting for greater health and safety protections if fracking is allowed in New York.  She says she doubts New Yorkers are going to be swayed by the industry ads.

“I don’t think they’re going to fall for glitzy ad campaigns and for rosy promises,” says Nadeau, who says in other states fracking has led to water contamination and other “serious community impacts”.

Other anti-fracking groups have begun running their own counter ads. One from the Washington, D.C.-based Food and Water Watch features a narrator speaking in the style of Gasland’s Josh Fox, and shows a man lighting the water from his kitchen faucet on fire.  It targets Governor Cuomo directly, and claims that 50 percent of gas wells fail eventually, causing potential environmental harm.

Both sides will face a challenge convincing New Yorkers of their point of view. Steve Greenberg, spokesman for Siena College polling, says the public is split on the issue, with 39 percent for fracking and 38 percent against it.

Greenberg says politically, it’s a “lose- lose” situation for the governor.

“An elected official’s worst nightmare is when the voters are evenly divided, and that official has to pick A or B,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg says Governor Cuomo will likely try to “mitigate” any political damage from the decision that’s ultimately made. The governor has already said that “home rule” will be important when making the decision, if fracking does occur. Cuomo spoke to public radio last month.

“I think it’s inarguable but that one should take into consideration home rule,” Cuomo said at the time. “If you have communities that have an expressed  desire to proceed, I think that should be taken into consideration, if you decide to go down this road at all.”

Cuomo said the views of localities who don’t want fracking “should be taken into consideration” as well.

The comments give weight to the scenario of permitting a limited number of wells at first, confined to communities who have expressed a desire to begin hydrofracking.

Both pro- and anti-fracking groups are anxiously awaiting the fracking decision, in the form of a final environmental impact statement from the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Nadeau, with Environmental Advocates, says she and others will “assess” the document very closely to determine, if fracking is allowed, whether enough safety precautions will be taken.

“The devil is certainly in the details on this issue,” said Nadeau.

Messore says her group is in a holding pattern, and reluctant to comment or take action until they actually see the final impact statement from the Cuomo Administration.

“We are waiting and watching,” said Messore.

It’s unclear how much longer they will have to wait. Governor Cuomo, speaking in New York Wednesday, where anti-fracking protesters disrupted an event, says “there is no timetable” for a decision on fracking.

Follow Karen DeWitt on Twitter @kdewitt7.

 

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