Officials urge Cuomo to OK shale gas drilling

Town officials and landowners eager for shale gas drilling to begin in southern New York are pressin

Town officials and landowners eager for shale gas drilling to begin in southern New York are pressing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to approve an environmental review that’s been four years in the making.

“This issue has been going on for four years,” Town of Binghamton Supervisor Tim Whitesell said today. “We understand the politics involved. But at the same time we are in a position where our residents are looking for this. It’s very frustrating that we see this economic boom just south of us in Pennsylvania and we’re not able to take part in it.”

The Department of Environmental Conservation is completing work on an environmental impact review and new regulations for shale gas development using horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Opponents, citing possible adverse health, environmental and community impacts, have been holding rallies and running ads pressuring Cuomo to ban fracking in New York.

Whitesell and 21 other town supervisors in the gas-rich Marcellus Shale region sent a letter to Cuomo on Wednesday urging him “to direct the DEC to move forward as soon as possible with rules and regulations governing the process and to begin permitting.”

The letter says more than 40 towns have passed resolutions in favor of drilling and hydraulic fracturing. More than 130 communities have enacted bans or moratoriums on shale gas development.

Matt Ryan, mayor of the city of Binghamton, took issue with the assertion that 40 towns have passed resolutions supporting drilling. Ryan, a fracking opponent whose city has banned gas drilling, said the resolutions only say that the decision is up to the DEC.

“They continue to perpetrate the myth that all these towns are for it,” he said.

Cuomo has given no definite deadline for the DEC’s review to be finalized. The administration has met with industry leaders and environmental groups in recent weeks to discuss issues such as monitoring health impacts.

“The administration has not made a final decision on hydraulic fracturing, and any decision will be based on the science and the facts,” Cuomo spokesman Matt Wing said today.

Health-care professionals have called on Cuomo to have a university conduct a formal health impact assessment as part of the DEC review. Lawyers from the Natural Resources Defense Council have said they may file a lawsuit challenging the validity of the DEC environmental impact review if a health study isn’t done.

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens, state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah and other top administration officials met with representatives of NRDC, Sierra Club, Environmental Advocates, Riverkeeper and Environmental Defense Fund last week to discuss health impacts such as accidents from increased truck traffic, air pollution from drilling operations and water contamination from accidental spills.

Rob Moore of Environmental Advocates said the meeting didn’t result in any decisions. He said the environmental groups pressed for an independent health assessment by medical experts before regulations are finalized.

Whitesell said town board meetings in the five counties where drilling would most likely begin have been inundated with opposition in recent months.

“Meetings have become pretty intense,” he said. “It’s frustrating, especially considering that the majority of residents have been looking forward to drilling in our region since 2008.”

Local opposition groups say the landowners who want drilling are in the minority. Thirty-six municipalities have enacted bans on gas drilling and 99 have passed moratoriums.

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