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Pro-frackers rally at the state Capitol

Karen DeWitt

The New York state Capitol has been the scene of numerous noisy demonstrations on hydrofracking. But on Monday, it was supporters of gas drilling, not opponents, who were protesting.A crowd of several hundred, chanting “no more delays,” gathered for a march and rally outside the state Capitol in Albany.

They include land owners in the Marcellus Shale region with gas drilling leases and workers who live in New York state but have jobs that are dependent on gas drilling elsewhere.

All say they are tired of waiting, after an on-going evaluation process that has been conducted by the state for more than four years, under two different governors.

They came to hear answers from state officials, but only a handful who favor fracking showed up.  Senate Deputy Majority Leader, Tom Libous, who represents the Binghamton area, lives four miles from Pennsylvania. He says his constituents want the same things that those across the border already have --jobs.

“Tens of thousands of jobs,” Libous said. “Just like they have in Pennsylvania.”

Most of the people at the rally were not well known. There were no stars like those who regularly speak at anti-fracking rallies, which have featured actresses Debra Winger and Melissa Leo and actor Mark Ruffalo, all of whom have homes in areas above the Marcellus Shale.  Senator Libous received hearty applause from the crowd when he said -- those types aren’t wanted at this rally.

“And they want to tell us how to live, do we enjoy that?” asked Libous, to shouts of “no” from the crowd.

“Stay in Hollywood,” he said. “We don’t want to hear it here.”

One of those non-celebrities, Ted Carlici, drove his energy company’s container truck from his home in Chemung County to the demonstration.  Carlici says while the firm, BK Energy, is based in New York,  it delivers water to drillers in Pennsylvania. The water is used, mixed with various chemicals, to fracture the underground rock and release the natural gas.

Opponents of fracking fear their ground water will be contaminated if the drilling is permitted. But Carlici says he has never had to deliver water to anyone whose wells were ruined by fracking, and he says he has never heard of that happening to anyone he knows.

“I talk to the land owners at the sites where I deliver, and none of them have ever reported any issues to me, or had any problems with it,” said Carlici.

While some at the pro-fracking rally shouted out for Governor Andrew Cuomo to come outside to address the group, criticism directly against the governor was muted.  Cuomo, who has publicly remained neutral on the issue, has recently ordered a health review of fracking before permits could be issued.

Senator Libous says the governor just needs to decide soon.

“Either you do it or you don’t,” said Libous. “I think you can do it and I think you can do it environmentally safe, you just have to make that decision.”

Environmental groups who oppose fracking disagree. David Van Luven, with Environment New York says experiences in other states, including Pennsylvania, have shown that fracking “cannot be done safely.”

“It’s polluting streams, it’s industrializing forests, it’s contaminating drinking water supplies,” said Van Luven. “It’s making families sick.”

Cuomo was at the Capitol, but made no comment.  He has said repeatedly that there is “no timetable” for when his administration will approve fracking, if it decides to allow the natural gas drilling at all.

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.