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New York Moratorium Bill Passes Assembly, Faces Uphill Battle in GOP-Run Senate

Lawmakers in the New York State Assembly have passed a bill calling for a three-year moratorium high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) and horizontal oil and gas drilling, but time is running out for the bill to also win passage in the state Senate.

The bill, A5424-B, passed the Democratic-controlled Assembly by a 96-37 vote on Monday. It was delivered on the same day to the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, and referred to the Senate Rules Committee. The committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday, one day before the Senate's last day of the 2014 legislative session.

Assemblyman Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst), fracking's longtime nemesis in the Empire State, is the primary sponsor of A5424-B (see Shale DailyJan. 31Feb. 28, 2013March 29, 2012Dec. 2, 2010). In a statement Monday, he urged the Senate to quickly pass the measure.

"These energy resources found in our state have the potential to provide great economic benefit to New Yorkers, but we cannot let that blind us from thoroughly looking into and investigating [fracking's] impact on our environment and human health," Sweeney said. "I call on the Senate to pass this bill so there will be time for a comprehensive review of all the available information well before this process gets the green light."

Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York (IOGA), told NGI's Shale Daily that he was not surprised by the bill's passage. The Assembly has passed or considered similar bills every year since 2010 (see Shale DailyMarch 7, 2013Jan. 10, 2012June 8, 2011Dec. 1, 2010).

"It's no real surprise that at the eleventh hour the Assembly would take this position and pass a bill like this," Gill said Wednesday. "Of course we are hopeful that it will not pass the Senate. This is nothing new, it has happened in the past. It reflects the mindset of our Democratically-controlled state Assembly here against our industry. Fortunately, we have a much greater voice of reason within the Senate."

Republicans hold 29 seats in the 63-member Senate, compared to 27 Democrats. Five dissident Democrats -- who form a bloc known as the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC) -- and Sen. Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) also caucus with the GOP, giving Republicans a 35-26 edge in the chamber. There are currently two vacant seats.

The five IDC members are Sens. Tony Avella (D-Queens), Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx), David Carlucci (D-Rockland) and David Valesky (D-Madison).

Supporters of the moratorium say it will give the state time to analyze several studies being conducted, including one by the state Department of Conservation (DEC) on HVHF (see Shale DailySept. 24, 2012). Other studies include those by Geisinger Health System; the University of Pennsylvania; Colorado State University; the University of Colorado at Boulder; Duke University and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (see Shale DailyApril 26, 2013Feb. 22, 2013Aug. 21, 2012).

Earlier this month, 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 DailyJune 3). Rulings in both cases -- -- Norse Energy Corp. USA v. Town of Dryden (No. 515227), and Cooperstown Holstein Corp. v. Town of Middlefield (No. 515498) -- could be handed down by mid-July.

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