Politically, Gov. Andrew Cuomo may wish he'd announced a decision on hydrofracking, the controversial method of extracting natural gas, on Jan. 1, 2011, the day of his inauguration. Whatever it was, by now people would at least have had a chance to get used to it.
A weekend Associated Press report (which Cuomo yesterday denied) said he was ready last month to go ahead with what seemed a reasonable plan to allow a limited number of test wells, with strict monitoring, in Southern Tier communities that support fracking . But, according to the report, former brother-in-law Robert Kennedy Jr. persuaded him to wait for the results of a comprehensive study of the health effects of people who live near wells in Pennsylvania, where extensive fracking has been done.
The study is being conducted by a respected health organization with no ties to the industry or environmental activist groups, which adamantly oppose fracking and want it banned in New York state. The environmentalists say the toxic chemicals used in the process contaminate water supplies and pollute the air with volatile organic compounds, including benzene and toluene. There is evidence of this happening in some places that have fracking , but not all, and strict regulations may be able to minimize the dangers.
The problem for Cuomo is that he's in a no-win situation, with New Yorkers evenly split on the issue. The environmental groups won't accept any study that says fracking isn't harmful, or is only minimally so, or accept any regulations as being strict enough. And those who support fracking -- for the jobs, royalties, tax revenues and relatively clean and abundant natural gas it would add to the nation's energy supply -- will blame him for making a decision based not on science, as he claims it will be, but on politics.
It's a hard call, but Cuomo should make it soon, regardless of any presidential ambitions and with the best information he has at the time.