By JOE MAHONEY
The Daily Star
---- — COOPERSTOWN — New Yorkers are evenly divided on the question of whether the Cuomo administration should permit hydraulic fracturing for shale gas — even in the counties where the controversial drilling technique could be employed, a new poll shows.
The Siena College survey found 47 percent of those living in the Southern Tier region to be supportive of hydrofracking, while 48 percent are opposed. Siena included Otsego, Delaware and Chenango counties in the region it defined as the Southern Tier.
A sampling of voters statewide showed a dead heat on the same question — 40 percent in favor and 40 percent opposed. Last month, the same pollsters showed the opposition with a slight edge, with 44 percent against horizontal shale drilling and 40 percent in favor of it.
Ellen Pope, director of the Cooperstown-based environmental group Otsego 2000, said Cuomo risks losing his core supporters if he sides with the gas industry and allows hydrofracking. As he eyes a possible run for the White House in 2016, he is trying to burnish his economic development credentials, and may be tempted to invited drillers into New York, she said.
“There is no question he is being torn in two different directions,” she said. “He’s in a tough position.”
Worcester Town Councilman Dave Parker, who is pro-drilling, said he has become increasingly disillusioned with Cuomo, contending New York is losing out on an economic windfall because of the governor’s hesitancy on the issue.
“The other side has no new facts and no new data to support its position,” said Parker, contending the opponents have failed to gain traction because the public is turned off by what he characterized as their absurd and boisterous publicity stunts. One such event, he said, occurred Monday, when drilling foes staged an Albany rally. Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, urged them to sign a “pledge of resistance” against hydrofacking.
The rally came as state Environmental Commissioner Joseph Martens told lawmakers that it is still unclear if proposed regulations governing hydrofracking permits will be completed by the deadline of Feb. 27. Martens said his agency is still waiting for state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah to complete a health impact review.
To complete the state regulations by Feb. 27, Martens’ agency would have to publish the environmental review in the state Register by Feb. 13. If this month’s deadline is missed, it means the state would have to put the regulations out for public comment again, which would likely cause a lengthy delay in the final decision.
The Siena poll also found Cuomo’s popularity had dropped over the last month, in the wake of his push for a new gun law package that bans several types of firearms, redefines some as assault weapons and places new restrictions on the capacity of ammunition magazines.
The survey concluded that a solid majority of upstate New Yorkers believe the Cuomo-pushed gun law was rushed through the Legislature without careful consideration. The same poll found about three-quarters of New York City voters, Democrats and those critical of the National Rifle Association favor the new law.