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November 15, 2012

Both sides brace for fracking decision

By JOE MAHONEY
The Daily Star

---- — COOPERSTOWN — With the calendar just two weeks away from the Cuomo administration’s Nov. 29 deadline to decide whether to issue New York’s first hydrofracking permits, both sides of the intense debate over natural gas drilling are bracing for the determination.

Those opposed to horizontal hydraulic fracturing for shale gas said they hope Gov. Andrew Cuomo misses the deadline because the state health commissioner has yet to complete a study on the health implications of going forward with the drilling technique.

Nicole Dillingham, president of the environmental group Otsego 2000, said the state needs to take more time to analyze the environmental and health impacts from hydrofracking in regions where the activity has been taking place.

And given the focus on delivering relief to areas of the state hit by Hurricane Sandy, she said it would be unwise for the state to further complicate what it already has on its plate by permitting shale gas extraction.

“My sense is that the deadline will be passed and they will restart the process of the regulations,” she said.

Over the past 18 months, more than 100 communities in New York have adopted local bans or moratoriums on gas drilling. On Wednesday night, the town of Otego board voted, 5-0, to make slight revisions to a proposed one-year drilling moratorium, said Stuart Anderson, a local resident who supports a ban.

Anderson said he had hoped the moratorium would be enacted before the Nov. 29 state deadline on the draft rules that would govern horizontal drilling. But he said he is pleased that the local board appears to be interested in moving forward with moratorium language that suits the community’s needs. A local landowners’ group has opposed the moratorium, saying drilling would spur economic growth in the region.

Dave Parker, a Worcester town board member and a member of a landowners group in favor of drilling, said he was informed this week by a party he would only describe as a “legal entity” that it is likely Cuomo will give the green light to shale gas drilling by the Nov. 29 deadline.

“They will proceed with the plan to issue 50 permits (to drillers) in 2013,” Parker predicted. “The window is there for them (the state) to divorce the health study from the regulations, not to forget about it but to incorporate it later. That would be very acceptable to us.”

Otsego County Rep. John Kosmer, D-Fly Creek, said he hopes the state misses the Nov. 29 deadline and that more communities send Albany a message by passing fracking bans.

“The longer this gets delayed, the better,” said Kosmer, arguing that more time will lead to more evidence pointing to the environmental risks posed by blasting through shale to extract trapped natural gas.