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Fracking not mentioned in speech


ALBANY — More than 1,000 protesters lined a pathway on Wednesday, chanting and wielding signs as lawmakers and lobbyists made their way to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s third State of the State address.

Cuomo’s 80-minute speech, however, had nary a mention of the topic they were protesting: hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.

Opponents of shale-gas drilling crammed a quarter-mile stretch of the Empire State Plaza’s underground concourse, which connects the state Capitol and Legislative Office Building to the convention center where Cuomo delivered his address. Some chanted at lawmakers as they made their way in; others sang, as 93-year-old folk legend Pete Seeger led an impromptu rendition of “This Land is Your Land,” aging banjo in hand.

In a radio interview Wednesday morning, a top Cuomo aide signaled hydrofracking wouldn’t be a part of the speech because the process is still being reviewed by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

“It’s not a part of the State of the State because it is under a review period,” Howard Glaser, Cuomo’s director of state operations, told Talk1300 (WGDJ-AM) in Albany.

Several protesters said they were there to send a message to Cuomo, regardless of what he said in his address.

“It’s just one more effort to slow down the process and convince people that fracking is the wrong direction to go,” said Edward Nizalowski, 65, of Newark Valley, Tioga County. “It will create jobs, there’s an influx of money but it’s short-lived. In the long term, we’ll pay a real environmental price.”

At various points, a smaller group of hydrofracking supporters made their way through the demonstrators. Several state troopers watched over the crowds, which swelled throughout the day but didn’t result in any incidents.

There were buses from all over the state, including four that departed from Ithaca. Among them were about 35 children from Ithaca’s New Roots Charter School and Lehman Alternative Community School, according to Mariah Prentiss, the school’s librarian.

Others participating in the protest included Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan, a vocal fracking critic, and singer-songwriter Natalie Merchant, who lives in the Hudson Valley.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation first launched its review of high-volume hydrofracking in 2008 and a decision on whether to allow it in New York has remained on hold. In September, DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens asked the state Department of Health to identify outside consultants to assist with the review.

The DEC faces a Feb. 27 deadline to finalize proposed regulations for fracking or allow them to expire.

Cuomo devoted a significant portion of his speech to improving the upstate economy, a task fracking supporters said could be aided by harvesting the gas that lies within the Southern Tier’s Marcellus Shale formation.

“We remain confident the governor recognizes the need to move forward with safe natural gas development, and respect his timeline,” said Karen Moreau, executive director of the New York State Petroleum Council. “But there is no question that for the State of the Southern Tier to be as strong as the people there deserve, hydraulic fracturing is the clear answer.”

Irene Weiser, a member of the town council in Caroline, Tompkins County, said she believes Cuomo appears “hellbent on fracking.”

“This may be one of our last chances to get some sense in him and tell him to stop,” Weiser said.