Former New York Gov. George Pataki said Thursday he supports shale gas and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the Empire State’s portion of the Marcellus Shale, calling its development “the right thing to do.”

“The benefits of these natural gas reserves for our economy would be enormous, even transformational,” Pataki said. “While we must act prudently, we must also remember that ‘no decision’ is a decision. Without swift action, this industry will simply bypass New York — costing upstate jobs and investment.”

Pataki added that state officials “must avoid being swayed by opinionated voices that seek to politicize this issue. By applying rigorous analysis and sound science, we can protect our state’s environment and develop a better future for all New Yorkers.”

Pataki’s support for shale gas development comes at a critical time for the state, which faces a deficit that could total $3.5 billion in 2012. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday he is considering an overhaul of the state’s tax code and possibly extending a temporary tax on New Yorkers earning more than $200,000 a year, which expires on Dec. 31.

Both tax measures could help Cuomo close the deficit, but speculation is rising that the governor may also be looking to strike deals over a variety of political issues in the state, including opening the Southern Tier to fracking.

“It makes sense to me that if we are going to permit environmentally safe drilling, that you go to those regions that are willing at accept it,” State Sen. Thomas Libous (R-Binghamton) — whose district includes Broome, Tioga and Chenango counties — told the Associated Press. “I know this region is willing to accept it.”

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) said Wednesday it needed another month to complete an environmental review and proposed regulations for fracking in the state (see Shale Daily, Dec. 1). Celebrities and landowners sparred over the proposed rulemaking at a public hearing Wednesday at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center in New York, with many of the witnesses vigorously opposing drilling and development, citing environmental concerns and concerns about water supply.

But, “the state of Pennsylvania is eating our lunch,” Arthur Kremer, chairman of the New York Affordable Reliability Alliance, said at the hearing. “It’s up to DEC to come up with the regulations that make it as foolproof as possible. It’s not fair for downstate people to impose their will on the people of upstate New York who want it and need it.”

Libous weighed in on the issue as well, posting on his website that he was “disappointed in this further delay. New York state’s landowners have been extremely patient waiting through three years of delays and moratoriums. We’ve made excellent progress in 2011 but we can’t afford any more delays. Environmentally safe drilling means jobs and we need those jobs now.”