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New York High Court Hears Frack Arguments; Secret Meetings Reported

Two top political advisers to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo held meetings with the heads of two state agencies at the heart of the debate over whether to allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) in the state, according to documents obtained through a freedom of information request.

Meanwhile, the New York Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, heard oral arguments Tuesday for two paramount cases involving local government bans on oil and gas activities (see Shale DailyAug, 30, 2013).

On Saturday, Gannett's Albany Bureau reported that Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joseph Martens and his then-counterpart at the Department of Health (DOH), Nirav Shah, met with Cuomo aides Phil Singer and Peter Kauffmann on two occasions in January 2013.

The meetings came the same month that a year-old draft assessment by the DOH on HVHF surfaced, a development that prompted some of the state’s Democratic lawmakers to call for suspension of a 30-day public comment period on proposed rules to govern the practice (see Shale DailyJan. 10, 2013Jan. 7, 2013). The DOH report, which was never released to the public, concluded that HVHF could be performed safely with appropriate regulation.

Gannett said it filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to the DOH in July 2013, asking for details surrounding meetings attended by Shah. The news agency said after repeated delays, the DOH in March provided more than 2,000 documents, but key parts of the documents were "heavily redacted." DOH also reportedly refused to provide un-redacted versions of the documents.

In a statement, New York Republican Party Chairman Edward Cox called on Cuomo to provide details over the meetings.

"From the start, Andrew Cuomo has said that the state's process of reviewing natural gas development was based upon scientific considerations rather than political considerations, and from the start, Andrew Cuomo has not been telling the truth," Cox said Monday. "If he has been telling the truth, he should release all of the details of meetings between his political advisers and the natural gas study team.

"The only conclusion we can draw from the Cuomo administration's heavy redacting of the released documents is that Andrew Cuomo is hiding his capitulation to the special interests that have robbed New York of the chance to take part in a billion dollar industry that supports a quarter of a million jobs in Pennsylvania."

Last month, a state senator said he thought Cuomo would come out in support of HVHF after the gubernatorial election in November (see Shale DailyMay 22).

On Tuesday, the state’s highest court heard oral arguments in two cases -- Norse Energy Corp. USA v. Town of Dryden (No. 515227), and Cooperstown Holstein Corp. v. Town of Middlefield (No. 515498).

Thomas West, an attorney for The West Firm pllc in Albany, NY, who represents Norse in the Dryden case, told NGI's Shale Daily that the oral arguments went well and there could be rulings on both cases by mid-July.

"The judges understand the issues," he said Tuesday. "It's impossible to predict where they're going, but they seemed to be able to separate the passion and policy from the law, which is very important when deciding an issue like this."

A de facto moratorium on HVHF has been in effect in New York since July 2008, when then-Gov. David Paterson ordered the DEC to perform a supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS) on the practice.

In September 2012, Martens asked Shah to conduct a health impact analysis of HVHF before the DEC completed its SGEIS (see Shale Daily, Sept. 24, 2012). Shah has since resigned his post for a job in the private sector (see Shale Daily, April 11) and no health analysis has been forthcoming.

Supporters of HVHF have filed two lawsuits against state officials including Cuomo, Martens and Shah over the ongoing regulatory delays in considering HVHF (see Shale Daily, Feb. 18Nov. 25, 2013). New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman also has filed motions to have the two lawsuits dismissed (see Shale DailyMarch 31March 7).

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