The New York State Assembly’s passage of a bill calling for a two-year moratorium on high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) in the state could divide the fragile bipartisan coalition that controls the Senate.

The Democratic-controlled Assembly passed the moratorium bill, A5424, by a 95-40 vote on Wednesday. The bill also calls for a comprehensive health impact assessment on HVHF by a school within the State University of New York system, a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a public review and comment period. HVHF permitting would be suspended until May 15, 2015.

Democrats outnumber Republicans in the Senate 33-30, but the GOP controls the chamber with a bloc of five dissident Democrats — the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC) — through a power-sharing deal formed after the 2012 election. Sen. Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) also caucuses with the Republicans, giving the bipartisan coalition a 36-27 edge over the Democrats.

The five IDC members are Sens. Malcolm Smith (D-Queens), Diane Savino (D-Brooklyn), Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx), David Carlucci (D-Rockland) and David Valesky (D-Madison).

Earlier this month, Carlucci and Savino introduced S4046, which also calls for a two-year moratorium on HVHF but also mandates that the state refrain from issuing regulations until three studies — by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Geisinger Health System and the University of Pennsylvania — are completed (see NGI, Dec. 24, 2012; Aug. 27, 2012). Both S4046 and A5242 were referred to the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee on March 6.

Preliminary results from the Geisinger study may be released this year, but other results won’t be available for five, 10 or 15 years. Meanwhile, final conclusions by EPA won’t be issued until 2014, after a public comment period.

The IDC’s support for S4046 could put it on a collision course with the other majority coalition leader, Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Nassau). Other Republicans in the chamber, especially Sens. Thomas Libous (R-Binghamton) and Sen. James Seward (R-Milford), are strong supporters of shale development in the Empire State. Both anti-HVHF bills could ultimately be defeated in the Senate if Skelos doesn’t bring them up for a floor vote.

Karen Moreau, executive director of the New York State Petroleum Council, a division of the American Petroleum Institute, derided the Assembly’s decision as “tantamount to telling the people of the Southern Tier to ‘drop dead.’ “Once again, Albany politicians are putting politics before science, and the special interests before the people. The people of New York deserve better, to say the least.”

Other organizations that support shale development in the Empire State also weighed in on developments in Albany.

“This New York Assembly voted on a badly flawed piece of legislation and the outcome was not a surprise,” said Dan Whitten, spokesman for America’s Natural Gas Alliance. “We urge the Cuomo administration to move ahead with its consideration of safe and responsible development of natural gas, and render a decision based on science that provides New Yorkers with the opportunity to improve local economies, the environment and energy security through the production and use of this clean abundant energy resource.”

Marcellus Shale Coalition spokesman Steve Forde concurred. “Leaders in Albany have had a clear choice for some time now,” he said. “[They can] move forward with common sense regulations that will create more jobs, higher revenues, and cleaner, more affordable energy, or prolong a hurry-up-and-wait process that places the state further on the sidelines at a time when its residents can afford it least.”

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