One day after New York regulators announced they would extend the comment deadline on a proposed rulemaking on hydraulic fracturing (fracking), former Gov. George Pataki urged officials to move forward to develop the Empire State’s portion of the Marcellus Shale, calling it “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. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, 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 the state close the deficit, but Cuomo is said to be considering more deals, which might include opening the Southern Tier to gas drilling — and fracking.

The DEC held its fourth and final public hearing on the environmental review and proposed regulations last Wednesday. Nearly 6,000 people attended the hearings, and about 600 made oral comments, according to agency officials.

DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said nearly 10,000 written comments already have submitted. She noted that around 13,000 comments were submitted on an earlier draft of the environmental review in 2009.

“Public input on the draft environmental impact statement is an important and insightful part of developing responsible conditions for this activity as well as determining whether it can be safely conducted,” DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said Thursday. The high attendance at DEC’s latest public hearings has been “unprecedented,” he added.

While celebrities, conservation groups and some stakeholders protest, proponents point to Pennsylvania’s big job growth and new revenues that have followed the huge expansion in gas drilling.

“The state of Pennsylvania is eating our lunch,” Arthur Kremer, chairman of the New York Affordable Reliability Alliance, said last week in Manhattan at DEC’s final public hearing on fracking. “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.”

Brad Gill, who heads the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York, said DEC’s decision to expand the comment period “may seem inconsequential to some [but] it is in fact a continuation of the existing four-year ban on economic opportunity for upstate New York.”

State Sen. Thomas Libous (R-Binghamton), whose district includes the shale-rich counties of Broome, Tioga and Chenango, said he thought the region would accept fracking.

On his website last week Libous said he was “disappointed in this further delay,” by DEC. “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.”

Binghamton, NY, resident Dan Fitzsimmons, who also is president of the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, said the repeated delays in the DEC’s rulemaking have cost the state hundreds of potential jobs and millions of dollars in revenue. His organization was formed to protect the interests of landowners by promoting best environmental practices in natural gas development.

“We request that the DEC commit to a firm timeline for the review and approval of regulations on hydraulic fracturing immediately,” Fitzsimmons said.

Fracking opponents said the longer comment period is needed because of the complexity of the extensive DEC environmental review and proposed rulemaking, which together are more than 1,500 pages.

“Another month is helpful, but what DEC does with the comments they receive is what counts,” Riverkeeper spokesman Paul Gallay said. “As we and other groups have pointed out, there are some pretty significant holes in the environmental impact statement and in the regulations, too. There’s no showing that overall this is a good thing for the economy, let alone the environment.”

©Copyright 2011Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news reportmay not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in anyform, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.