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Gov. Cuomo willing to wait on hydrofracking

The state’s Environmental Commissioner said last week that the process to permit hydrofracking on some private lands in New York State may take longer than expected, and DEC Commissioner Joe Martens even cast doubt on  whether permits would be issued in 2012 at all. Governor Cuomo says he’s willing to wait, if it leads to a rational decision making process on what’s become a highly emotional issue.

Governor Cuomo says he doesn’t believe that his Environmental Commissioner Joe Martens, has slowed the process toward approving hydrofracking in New York by taking more time to produce an advisory committee report.  He also discounts critics who previously said the Administration was trying to fast track the process.

“I think people are reading tea leaves,” said Cuomo, in an interview with public radio. “I don’t think he’s slowing down, I don’t think he’s speeding up. I think he’s being realistic and practical.”

The Department of Environmental Conservation is in the midst of an environmental review process to allow the controversial gas drilling process on some private lands in the state, and has already issued proposed regulations for hydrofracking. Despite that, Cuomo says “there is no pre determined outcome”, on whether drilling will occur, and he says the decision will be made on science and facts, not on emotion, however long that takes.

“When you bring up the topic, many people have an immediate feeling,” said Cuomo. “An immediate fear in some cases, and the conversation tends to get polarized.”

The governor says he’s been “trying to slow down the overall discussion" and get away from an "emotional" response.

“Let’s get the facts,” he said.

He says the final decision on fracking will not be made until all of those facts are gathered and analyzed.

The advisory committee was created to determine costs to the state for hydrofracking, and potential fees to charge the gas drilling industry. They will not issue a report in November, as planned, and may not have a report ready until February. The delay means that possible costs and potentially lucrative revenue from fracking will not be part of the governor’s budget plan, which is to be released in January. Cuomo says he’s not concerned about that.

“I don’t know that the timing with the budget is all that relevant,” Cuomo said.

The governor says the legislature is in session through June 2012, and if any additional action needs to be taken, they could  do it after the budget is due to be  finished on April 1st.

Environmentalists, including Bill Cook, with Citizens Campaign for the Environment, says what ever the reason for the committee’s delay, he’s  happy for the additional time, and he believes the DEC is
reacting to “public outcry”.

“Maybe they’re starting to listen,” said Cook. “We’ll have to wait and see.”

Mark Boling is with the Texas- based gas drilling company Southwestern Energy, and he’s also a member of the fracking advisory committee. Boling says “there was a feeling of being rushed” to meet
state budget deadlines, and he says it’s better that that pressure is now off, and that the process be done “right”, even if it takes longer, because in order for the industry to proceed, the public needs to be “assured that hydraulic fracking is safe”.

“Public trust and acceptance of hydraulic fracturing is the key,” said Boling. “And if it’s not there, then it’s just not going to happen.”

Cuomo says he’s well aware that many people are wary of the government in New York State, particularly after years of disappointment and scandal.

“And now the state government says, ‘don’t worry, we can effectively monitor this’,” Cuomo said. “It’s one of the greatest obstacles that I’ve faced all across the board.”

Cuomo says he realizes that trust in government, and whether the state could safely carry out hydro fracking, has to be earned.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.