Ilya Marritz covers business for WNYC.
Natural gas companies and industry groups have dramatically increased their spending on lobbying in Albany, according to a new report by Common Cause.
Pro-gas drilling groups spent $1.5 million lobbying in Albany in 2010 — 21 percent more than they spent in the prior year. Industry lobbying expenditures have more than quadrupled since 2008, when hydraulic fracturing became a hot-button political issue.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has made it possible to tap vast gas reserves, including New York's Marcellus Shale. But it's also been linked with water contamination and other environmental problems.
Environmental groups opposed to fracking spent less than $500,000 last year on lobbying. Part of the money was spent in winning support for two bills that would have put a moratorium on fracking. Governor David Paterson vetoed the bill that ultimately emerged from the legislature.
The top industry spender was Chesapeake Energy, which paid more than $1.2 million in 2010, making it the No. 18 largest spender on lobbying in Albany that year, according to NYPIRG. Much of the money went to advertising, not government relations. The top spender in opposition to drilling was Citizens Campaign for the Environment, at $159,232.
The imbalance in lobbying expenditures may be even more lopsided than it appears, said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause, because unlike natural gas companies, environmental groups lobby on a wide variety of issues.
Lerner said lobbying expenditures by environmental groups have held relatively steady for several years, while energy companies' spending has dramatically increased.
"We see relatively little spent by the gas industry up until 2009," Lerner said. "Not coincidentally, that's when hydrofracking really started to become an issue here in New York State. It's not surprising that when their business plans shifted to gas exploration in New York State, their lobbying dollars would shift here as well."
Common Cause is among the groups that lobbied in favor of the fracking moratorium, spending more than $50,000 on a variety of issues. Lerner said her group has no position on fracking, but that gas exploration should not be rushed and deserves more study.