Two polls show New Yorkers remain evenly split on the issue of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), but one poll shows opponents of the practice could cause more political damage to Gov. Andrew Cuomo if it ultimately is approved.

Meanwhile, Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joseph Martens told state lawmakers that the agency might miss a Feb. 27 deadline to complete its rulemaking process on fracking because it is waiting for a health impact statement (see Shale Daily, Sept. 24, 2012) from the state Department of Health (DOH).

According to a Siena College Research Institute poll released Monday, 40% of respondents support the DEC allowing fracking to move forward in parts of upstate New York, while 40% are opposed and 20% are undecided. Fracking opponents had polled ahead of supporters in January (44-40%), but they had trailed behind supporters in four previous polls taken in December (42-36%), October (42-36%), August (39-38%) and May 2012 (37-36%), the oldest month available (see Shale Daily, Dec. 6, 2012; Oct. 30, 2012; Aug. 22, 2012).

The Siena poll also asked fracking supporters and opponents to characterize how upset they would be if the DEC ultimately decided to go against their wishes.

Among fracking opponents, 54% said they would be "very upset" if the DEC allowed the practice to move forward, while another 34% would be "somewhat upset." But if the DEC banned fracking, only 20% said they would be "very upset," while 39% would be "somewhat upset."

"The Governor is in a position that chief executives hate: making a decision on a controversial issue where voters are split down the middle," said Siena pollster Steven Greenberg. "Unlike his position on guns, which angered a vocal minority, Cuomo's decision on fracking is likely to anger far more voters, no matter what he decides. However, fracking opponents will be much more upset if it moves forward than fracking supporters will be if it does not."

Fracking garnered support among voters in Upstate (43-42%) and suburban (40-39%) parts of the state, and with men (45-42%) and Republicans (62-21%). But opposition to fracking was stronger among New York City residents (40-36%), women (39-35%) and Democrats (49-27%).

Siena's newest poll also broke out respondents from 14 counties that are considered the Southern Tier. Opposition to fracking in the Southern Tier had a slight edge (48-47%), but Upstate voters not in the Southern Tier supported fracking, 42-41%.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday showed overall support for fracking by a 43-42% margin, boosted by respondents Upstate (48-40%) and the suburbs (48-36%), and among men (53-35%), Republicans (63-21%) and independents (49-42%). Opponents of fracking won support among New York City voters (48-36%) and with women (48-34%) and Democrats (55-28%).

Quinnipiac polls conducted last December (44-42%) and September (45-41%) also showed support for fracking (see Shale Daily, Sept. 14, 2012), but opposition polled ahead in July 2012 (44-43%) and December 2011 (45-44%), the oldest poll available (see Shale Daily, Aug. 1, 2012).

According to reports, Martens testified before the Joint Budget Hearing on Environmental Conservation on Monday that the DOH should complete its health impact analysis of high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) "in the next few weeks." The DEC is trying to wrap up its revised draft of its supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS) on HVHF.

"If [the DOH] recommends additional measures, then it would be difficult to finalize [the SGEIS] and get the regulations finalized," Martens said, according to the Syracuse Post-Standard. He later added that the DEC is "not under any particular timetable" to complete the SGEIS.

The Siena poll surveyed 1,154 registered voters between Jan. 27 and 31, and has a margin of error of plus/minus 3.7%. Siena also conducted an oversampling of 401 registered voters from the Southern Tier, with a margin of error of plus/minus 5.3%. Meanwhile, Quinnipiac pollsters queried 1,127 voters between Jan. 23 and 28. That poll has a margin of error of plus/minus 2.9%.