By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star
---- — Upstate New York voters are divided on the issue of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas, with 44 percent favoring it and 42 opposing it, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released this week.
Statewide — with suburban and New York City residents included — voters oppose fracking, 46 to 39 percent, the poll found. It is the first time since their polling on the issue began in August 2011 that a clear majority has opposed fracking, the pollsters said.
“People are now engaged in the whole process of fracking,” said Otsego County Rep. Beth Rosenthal, D-Cherry Valley. “They’re beginning to understand that there are many negative aspects of it, where before maybe they had heard about it or heard something about it or watched those pretty commercials on TV.”
Karen Moreau, executive director of the New York State Petroleum Council, a division of the American Petroleum Institute, painted the poll as a statement about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s leadership rather than a setback for pro-fracking forces.
“There is ... a growing sense that the governor has allowed this issue to become mired in politics, despite claims he will let science decide,” she wrote in a media release about the poll. “Rather than leading, he appears to be letting the polls make his decisions. That isn’t leadership, and it is certainly not the Andrew Cuomo we knew and supported in the first two years of his term.”
The poll found that 21 percent of state voters think the governor is “carefully evaluating the issue of hydrofracking,” and 30 percent say he is “dragging his feet … to avoid making a decision.” However, 46 percent of respondents offered no opinion on that issue.
“I don’t know how Governor Cuomo is going to react,” said Dick Downey, who supports fracking and leads the Unatego Area Landowners Association. “Apparently, he is looking at polls and not science, and he may delay more.”
Downey said that economics will make it inevitable that natural gas locked in the Marcellus Shale formation will eventually be tapped.
“There’s a lot of gas up here, and it’s going to be extracted,” he said. “It has a value. It’s low right now, but it’s going to go up. … The worldwide consumption of gas is going to go up, and the price is going to go up. … I don’t know if I’ll see it, but it’s going to happen. And as it happens, the scare techniques will melt.”
Edward Lentz, a New Lisbon councilman who opposes fracking, said he was heartened by the poll numbers.
“I think what’s happening is the more time passes, the more people are learning about the use of hydrofracking and realizing that it’s not the safe process the gas industry and the pro-frackers have been telling us that it is.”
Lentz agreed that the market argument — prices — eventually may bring about gas extraction in the area.
“We’re not there yet, though,” he said.
“I’m not opposed to natural gas,” Lentz said. “Natural gas is great. I’d like to see us reduce our consumption of fossil fuels generally, but among the fossil fuels, natural gas is a terrific source of energy. But it has to be obtainable in a way that makes sense.”
He compared fracking to environmentally questionable practices in other areas.
“I’m not opposed to wood products,” he said. “But I am opposed to clear-cutting forests.”
In August 2011, when Quinnipiac first asked the question, 47 percent or respondents favored drilling, while 42 percent opposed it. In two polls last year, the two positions were about even, Quinnipiac said.
The poll of 1,165 voters was conducted by phone March 11-17. Its margin of error was plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.