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Cuomo: State Set to Miss Thursday’s Fracking Deadline

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Anti-fracking sign (Maria Scarvalone/WNYC)

The governor is not optimistic that the state’s environmental agency will meet a key deadline on a controversial natural gas drilling practice. The department should know by Thursday whether it will again miss the deadline, delaying approval of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in New York.  

Governor Andrew Cuomo says he expects the State’s Department of Environmental Conservation will fail to meet a November 29 deadline to propose new rules for fracking.

“We are not going to be able to,” Cuomo said. “The state won’t finish the review by November 29th”.

Speaking in Rochester, Cuomo says the environmental agency will have to apply for an extension, which could delay the process for up to another six months.

The Health and Environmental departments have agreed that a health review needs to be finished before new fracking rules can be finalized. The State Health Commissioner, Dr. Nirav Shah, just a few days before Thanksgiving, contracted with three nationally known health experts to help him examine the material.

Groups who oppose fracking say they’ll use the new delay as an opportunity to try to prevent the drilling from ever happening in New York. Walter Hang with Toxics Targeting, says his group will be writing letters to the three health experts to urge a thorough health review.

“We’re going to call upon them to make sure that they address all of those concerns,” Hang said.

Hang says there have been past reports of drinking water contamination, and failure to clean up past pollution from drilling.  But he worries that the review will be narrowly focused, and not address opponents’ concerns. He adds he’s frustrated that the details of the review have not been made public.

“What are they supposed to do? That has never been disclosed,” Hang said. “We don’t know what the scope of their review is.”

But pro-fracking groups are fed up with all of the delays. Dan Fitzsimmons is president of the Joint Landowners Coalition, a group of 77,000 landowners who he says have been working to see that New Yorkers who sign leases with the gas companies get a fair deal.  The coalition has written its own letter to Governor Cuomo, saying the latest obstacle is a “breach of faith” in government. He says Cuomo, who has maintained that “science” would determine whether fracking goes ahead in New York, is getting cold feet in the face of growing opposition. 

“He seems to not be looking at the science anymore,” said Fitzsimmons. “He’s basing his decisions and a lot of what he’s doing on emotions.”

Fitzsimmons says the health effects of fracking have already been studied extensively, and numerous other states and nations have used the process successfully for years. He says he and his neighbors have only to look across the southern border into Pennsylvania, to see the economic benefits that gas drilling can bring.

“It’s so frustrating,” said Fitzsimmons, who sees “thriving” businesses in Pennsylvania, and farmers repairing their homes and barns, and buying new tractors.

“It’s incredible to see the benefits that this has brought,” Fitzsimmons said. “But yet, that border that’s sitting here, that invisible line, we can’t take advantage of that.”

Despite Governor Cuomo’s comments that the fracking deadline would be missed, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation would not confirm that the department would miss the November 29 deadline. She did say more details will be made public before Thursday.

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