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Idea of limited NY fracking divides energy camps


ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Landowners along New York's southern border who support natural gas drilling are cheered by reports that the Cuomo administration is considering allowing hydraulic fracturing on a limited basis in towns that want it, though opponents call the idea "shameful."

The administration is pursuing a plan to limit the controversial shale gas drilling technology to portions of Broome, Chenango, Steuben and Tioga counties, The New York Times quoted a senior official at the state Department of Environmental Conservation as saying, along with others with knowledge of the situation. That region, along the border with heavily drilled Pennsylvania, is considered most likely to yield significant quantities of natural gas in New York.

The Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, which is seeking to lease land for drilling, has persuaded several dozen towns to pass resolutions supporting drilling. Many more towns have passed bans or moratoriums on drilling.

"We're encouraged. It appears as though the administration is trying to move the ball forward," Dan Fitzsimmons, who heads the landowner group, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "There are many communities that are eager to proceed. We've always believed that drilling can be done in an environmentally sound way and that it would be a huge benefit to the economy."

The Times reported that officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because deliberations are continuing.

Cuomo and Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens have declined to give a specific timetable for completion of the environmental review and haven't said definitively whether fracking will be allowed in New York.

"No final decision has been made and no decision will be made until the scientific review is complete and we have all the facts," Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto said Wednesday.

Numerous environmental, health, and community groups are seeking a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which frees gas from shale by injecting a well with millions of gallons of chemically treated water at immense pressure. Opponents of drilling and fracking in the vast Marcellus Shale formation underlying parts of New York, Pennsylvania and other states cite risks of water and air pollution.

"It's absolutely unconscionable that the governor would even think about exposing some New Yorkers to fracking hazards while protecting others," said Walter Hang of Toxics Targeting. "There should be no second-class citizens when it comes to shale gas fracking in New York."

A coalition of scientists, physicians, environmentalists and elected officials has gathered more than 2,300 signatures on a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo opposing plans for any demonstration project or other plan to allow shale gas development on a limited basis. Proponents have suggested such a plan as an alternative to wide-scale development.

"Partitioning our state into frack and no-frack zones based on economic desperation is a shameful idea, and we will actively oppose its implementation," said Sandra Steingraber, founder of New Yorkers Against Fracking.

The state has not permitted shale gas development using horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing since it began an environmental review in 2008. The review, and new regulations, are expected to be completed this year.

"Certainly it's good news that the administration is looking to begin the permitting process," said Sen. Thomas Libous, a Republican whose Southern Tier district includes most of the territory sought for hydrofracking.

"Obviously, as I've said in the past, there are a number of communities that would welcome it and are very open to it," Libous told the AP. "The only caution is that if I look at my overall district, I have about 22 towns and villages that have already passed some sort of resolution to be supportive of natural gas drilling, but I have over all some 30,000 landowners who certainly have identical rights over whether or not they would want to sign leases to move forward."

"Our position is anything that moves the issue forward is a good sign," said Jim Smith, spokesman for the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York. "We would support a program that allows industry to prove what we've been saying all along — that drilling can be done safely in New York."