As other states move ahead, New York remains still on fracking As New York awaits decision, other states are moving forward
Written by Jon Campbell Albany Bureau in the democratandchronicle.com 9/20/2013ALBANY — New York has a public that’s split, a Legislature with more critics than supporters and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who hasn’t signaled a position but whose administration has repeatedly delayed a decision.
When it comes to hydraulic fracturing, New York is one of the last states to make a decision.
With California and Illinois the latest to move toward installing regulations for fracking for oil and natural gas, New York, North Carolina and Maryland are the only shale-bearing states that have what amounts to a moratorium in place.
“This is just a stunning thing to watch New York just sit there and do nothing,” said Rayola Dougher, a senior economic adviser for the American Petroleum Institute. “It’s like it’s politically paralyzed.”
The California Legislature passed a set of fracking regulations earlier this month, with Gov. Jerry Brown vowing to sign the bill despite environmental groups pulling their support over last-minute amendments they found unacceptable.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and state lawmakers approved their own set of fracking rules in June, and they’re currently being put into place before the state issues permits. More than a dozen other states have allowed large-scale fracking, including Pennsylvania, which has permitted it since 2007.
Brown, Cuomo and Quinn are all Democrats. But in California, fracking for oil had already been underway. And in Illinois, the threat of the industry moving forward without regulations led to a compromise with major environmental groups, who supported the rules before they were approved by lawmakers.
In New York, the length of the state’s de facto moratorium on high-volume fracking — first launched five years ago by then-Gov. David Paterson — has led to a more robust and more organized movement of drilling opponents, whose protests at the state Capitol have at times attracted thousands.
In deciding whether to allow large-scale fracking, New York finds itself most aligned with Maryland.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley — who, like Cuomo, is often mentioned as a potential Democratic presidential candidate — put fracking on hold in his state in 2011, appointing a commission to study the technique before rendering a decision.
In New York, the Cuomo administration’s Department of Health is reviewing proposed drilling guidelines to determine whether they would adequately protect public health. Those guidelines are part of the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, the review launched by Paterson in 2008.
North Carolina’s moratorium was installed by law and keeps fracking on hold until regulations being crafted by state regulators are in place. The state Legislature would have to vote to approve the rules before shale drilling moves forward.
Vermont, meanwhile, became the first state to formally ban fracking last year. The state, however, is not believed to have any shale gas or oil reserves, so it didn’t cost Vermont anything to make that decision.
There’s been no recent indication about when the Cuomo administration will decide whether to proceed in New York. Cuomo is up for re-election next year, and it’s unclear whether he will make a decision before then.
When asked in Binghamton earlier this month if there were any new developments, Cuomo said: “Nothing new.” He’s said repeatedly that a decision will ultimately be based on “facts and science,” not the “emotion” that has dominated the debate.
“When a multibillion-dollar, multinational corporation comes in and puts all the power behind their interests, we’ve seen some of those states really bow to the interest of the oil-and-gas industry, and that’s a tragedy,” Armstrong said.
Added Roger Downs, conservation director of the Sierra Club’s Atlantic chapter: “California and Illinois have blindly rushed into the fracking fray and will stumble through the pitfalls that Governor Cuomo has wisely contemplated.”
The Democratic-led Assembly has supported a moratorium on fracking in New York, but it has been blocked by Republicans in the Senate. Polls in New York continue to show voters are evenly divided on the issue.
California’s environmental groups are left in a difficult position while the new regulations await Brown’s formal signature, according to Bill Allayaud, the California director of governmental affairs for the Environmental Working Group.
While Allayaud’s group and similar organizations opposed the late amendments that they say weakened the bill, a Brown veto would mean none of the regulations in the legislation would be in place while drilling continues.
“We got a lot of what we wanted,” Allayaud said. “There are 11 key provisions that would … force (California) to regulate not just hydrofracking, but all forms of well stimulation.”
Karen Moreau, the executive director of the New York State Petroleum Council, said the time for New York to act has long since passed. The Independent Oil & Gas Association on Friday said it has been 34 weeks since the state’s health commissioner indicted the agency would complete its review in the “next few weeks.”“I think it all points to the governor,” Moreau said. “(Cuomo) is clearly afraid to make a decision in New York. He’s afraid. You have other states that are viewed as liberal enclaves — California and Illinois — moving forward. New York stands alone.”