The issue of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) came up during the only debate scheduled among the candidates running for governor in New York, in a race that two polls predict should be an easy win for the incumbent, Democrat Andrew Cuomo.
On Wednesday, Rob Astorino, the Republican nominee and Westchester County executive, called Cuomo "politically paralyzed" on the fracking issue, adding that if elected he would move forward with drilling within the first 90 days of his administration, provided the environment and public health were protected.
"Thirty-five states have natural gas," Astorino said at the debate in Buffalo, NY. "Thirty-four are safely drilling and their economies are booming. Let's look at what's going on in Pennsylvania, Ohio and North Dakota; we can do that here in New York."
Astorino asserted that several federal entities -- the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy and Interior departments -- say fracking is safe. He added that many Democrats, including President Obama and both of New York's senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, also support the practice.
"We need to move forward with this," Astorino said. "This will lower energy costs, bring back manufacturing, [and] it will be great for our taxes. We'll get a lot of revenue where we can actually cut taxes and put it back into education. It's exactly what we need to get people back to work."
Cuomo responded by saying he thought it was symbolic that Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins, who would ban fracking, was seated to his left while Astorino was to his right.
"I'm not a scientist. Let the scientists decide," Cuomo said. "It's very complicated. It's very controversial. People have very different opinions. Academic studies come out all different ways. Let the experts decide.
"I've asked the experts -- the Commissioners of the Department of Health [DOH] and the Department of Environmental Conservation [DEC] -- to give me a report; it's due at the end of this year. Whatever the experts say is right, that's what I will do because frankly, it's too complicated for a layman."
Cuomo then cut into Astorino. "When he goes Upstate he's Sarah Palin -- 'Drill, baby, drill.' When he goes home to Westchester, he's [anti-fracking activist and actor] Mark Ruffalo. He passed a law that says fracking wastewater cannot be treated in his facilities or used on his roads. So it's safe Upstate, just not in Westchester County, where his family is."
The debate also included Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins, a United Parcel Service worker from Syracuse; and Libertarian Michael McDermott, a real estate broker from Long Island.
Hawkins confirmed that he would ban fracking. McDermott said he was against the practice unless it was proven safe.
According to a Siena College poll released Wednesday, Cuomo has a 21-point lead over Astorino heading into the Nov. 4 election. Cuomo leads, 54-33%.
"Astorino has narrowed the gap. However, with less than two weeks until Election Day, about three-quarters of Republicans and Astorino voters think that Cuomo will win," said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg. "It appears that Cuomo simply needs to run out the clock."
A separate poll by Quinnipiac University, released Oct. 8, also showed Cuomo ahead of Astorino, 51-31%.