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New York Gov. Cuomo Makes No Mention of Fracking in State Address

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo touched on a wide spectrum of past accomplishments and goals for the future, but made no mention of high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) in his fourth State of the State speech on Wednesday.

In a roughly 70-minute speech at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany, the governor predicted that 2014, the last year of his term, would be a "banner year" for the state. Cuomo, a Democrat, also made no mention of possibly running for reelection in the upcoming gubernatorial race.

A spokesperson for Cuomo did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

In September 2012, Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joseph Martens asked Department of Health Commissioner Nirav Shah to complete a health impact analysis of HVHF before the DEC completed a supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS) on the practice (see Shale Daily, Sept. 24, 2012).

Despite last month's filing of a lawsuit designed to compel the DEC to complete the SGEIS, the delay -- and an ongoing de facto moratorium on HVHF in the state -- appears likely to continue (see Shale Daily, Dec. 19, 2013).

Dan Fitzsimmons, president of the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York Inc., said he was "disappointed but not surprised" that the governor didn't mention fracking.

"New York State missed out on a great opportunity that the rest of the country is enjoying, but because of the political reasons of our governor, New York State residents are going to miss out on the jobs and the economic benefits," Fitzsimmons said Wednesday. "New York State is not open for business."

Brad Gil, executive director of the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York (IOGA), also said he was not surprised that fracking was omitted from the speech.

“We’ve won the debate on science,” Gil said Wednesday. “It’s no longer about science, environmental protections or safety. It is most definitely now just political maneuvering. It’s just another example of indecisive leadership that we’ve seen from this governor. He doesn’t want to mention it because he knows how divisive this really is.”

Cuomo has twice promised to make a decision on HVHF before the next gubernatorial election, which is Nov. 4 (see Shale Daily, Dec. 17, 2013; May 29, 2013).

Thomas West, an attorney for The West Firm PLLC in Albany, NY, filed last month's lawsuit on behalf of two energy companies harmed by the moratorium. He said it was possible Cuomo's written remarks were longer than his actual speech and that the governor could have referenced fracking there.

"He's a master at controlling the agenda, and the fact that he didn't mention anything about [fracking] is somewhat startling," West said Wednesday. "I also think it was interesting that he didn't have any examples for the Southern Tier of New York, in terms of economic growth, in talking about his Upstate initiatives."

Cuomo made only one reference to energy issues. About halfway through his speech, he was critical of the length of time it takes for power transmission lines to receive regulatory approval.

"Believe it or not, it can take up to two years to get a new transmission project approved," Cuomo said. "And some of the proposed projects are causing concerns by expanding into local communities. Let's incentivize smart projects that locate within state-owned or existing transmission rights-of-way, so they're not interfering with spreading into local communities."

West, who is also representing the oil and gas industry in a pivotal case before the state Court of Appeals (see Shale Daily, Aug. 30, 2013), said he believed Cuomo "has been a really good governor on dealing with issues like trying to streamline government. And yet he is the worst offender when it comes to dealing with natural gas drilling.

"What always strikes me is that he's got great leadership ability, but he hasn't applied leadership to this issue. A strong leader would come out and said 'there's concerns about this, I've directed my commissioner of DEC to regulate this stringently, to proceed cautiously, and if it can be done safely we'll continue, and if it can't be we'll shut it down until we figure out how to do it safely.'

"That's what any logical response should be, not just to bury it in some closed door review by his health commissioner."

The SGEIS was ordered in July 2008 by then-Gov. David Paterson, who was in the audience for Cuomo's speech on Wednesday, effectively placing a moratorium on drilling horizontal wells in New York.

If the current moratorium on HVHF in the state were to be removed, producers have shown interest in exploring the counties of Steuben, Chemung, Tioga, Broome, Tompkins, Cortland, Onondaga, Chenango and Ostego, which sit just over the border from the northeastern Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale hot spot counties of Tioga, Bradford, Susquehanna and Lycoming.

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