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The Empire

Albany Becomes Focus of PR Battle on Fracking

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Anti-fracking sign at the final of four public hearings in New York city on the controversial practice known as hydraulic fracturing.

Groups opposed to hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking, presented Governor Andrew Cuomo with 200,000 signatures asking for a ban on the gas drilling process in New York.  A State Senator predicted the opposition to the process will have an effect on the governor.

The coalition, New Yorkers Against Fracking, delivered boxes containing the signatures to Governor Cuomo’s offices on Wednesday. An aide politely accepted them, but Governor Cuomo, whose public schedule listed him as being in Albany, did not appear.

The Cuomo administration is in the midst of an environmental impact study on the effects of fracking in New York. Currently, the Department of Environmental Conservation is reviewing over 60,000 public comments on the gas drilling process.

The event was the latest in a series of near weekly events by anti-fracking activists at the Capitol during this legislative session. State Senator Tony Avella, a Queens Democrat who is pushing for the ban, thinks the opponents are winning the public relations battle over the controversial drilling practice, and predicted it will eventually have an effect on Cuomo.

“The governor seems to want hydro-fracking to move ahead, and I think that’s a serious mistake not only for the people of the state, but for his future political ambitions,” Avella said.  “All it will take is one accident and those future political ambitions may be squashed.”

Roger Downs, with the Sierra Club, also thinks Cuomo, who is believed to have national aspirations, is facing pressure from the gas and oil industries, to support what Downs said is the “drill baby, drill” mantra.

But Downs said the governor can still change his course and stand up for renewable energies instead.

The lobby group that represents gas companies in New York, the Independent Oil and Gas Association, has begun its own effort to win back public opinion.

They’ve begun a series of post card mailings. One features photos of what the group calls “Hollywood” actors Mark Ruffalo, Debra Winger, and “Gaslands” director Josh Fox, saying “reading from a script does not make you a scientist.”  

Spokeswoman Cherie Messore said just because famous actors and musicians advocate for a point of view, doesn’t mean it’s correct.

She added professional scientists and engineers don’t believe fracking is harmful, and she said their opinions should carry more weight.

“The science and facts are pretty indisputable,” Messore said.

Oil and gas officials have also begun coming to the Capitol on a weekly basis, to hold private meetings with state legislators. They say further delay in fracking is only hurting the state’s small business community, which could see increased sales in hotels, restaurants and other service industries if the gas drilling begins, and they lament what they say has become a “hostile and extreme opposition”. 

Governor Cuomo has been publicly neutral on the issue while his Department of Environmental Conservation decides.

“I’m reluctant to get in front of the DEC,” Cuomo said recently.

The Environmental Commissioner, Joe Martens said recently that he could not predict when fracking might begin in New York, but suggested it might start first in communities where there is less public opposition.