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Poll Shows Increased Support for Fracking

The natural gas industry sees hopeful signs in a new poll that finds more New Yorkers now support hydrofracking. A Quinnipiac University survey also finds upstaters, who live where the gas drilling process would occur, back fracking in greater numbers.

The Quinnipiac poll finds that by a narrow four point margin, New Yorkers surveyed believe that the economic benefits of natural gas drilling, including job creation, outweigh the potential harmful environmental effects. Quinnipiac’s Mickey Carroll says opinion is still somewhat evenly divided.   

“People are split,” Carroll said.

But, for the first time in more than a year, a growing number of upstate voters, many of whom live in areas above the Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits, support hydrofracking by 48% to 41%.

Jim Smith, with the Independent Oil and Gas Association, a lobby group for the gas industry, says recent events may be influencing New Yorkers to think more positively about fracking. He says both GOP nominee Mitt Romney and President Obama support the expansion of hydrofracking, and New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has also spoken in favor of the process.

“There certainly is a bump,” said Smith.

Walter Hang, with Toxics Targeting, an anti fracking group, has a different view of the poll result.  He says when the margin of error in the poll is accounted for, New Yorkers are still conflicted about fracking.

“Who isn’t supporting getting jobs?” Hang asked. “But the question is, can we get the benefits without suffering irreparable harm? And I think that that is an open question.”

The poll comes as the Cuomo Administration appears to be once again delaying a decision on fracking.  Initially the governor had indicated  it would be out by the end of the summer, but now is not setting a time table.

Carroll, with Quinnipiac, says politically, it would be wise for the governor to wait until after the fall elections.

Hang, with Toxics Targeting, says if the Cuomo Administration were to announce a decision to begin limited fracking before November 6th, it could hurt Democratic congressional candidates running in the Southern Tier. Democrats Dan Lamb and Nate Shinagawa  are running highly competitive races against first time GOP incumbents Richard Hanna and Tom Reed.

“The governor is probably facing a lot of pressure not to make a final decision (before November),” said Hang. “Because he could reward the republican incumbents and take away one of the most powerful issues that democratic challengers are talking about.”

Smith, with the Independent Oil and Gas Association, says his group would like the decision to come sooner, after what he says has been a four year wait.  But he says the gas drilling companies are prepared to work with the state’s environmental agency whenever they are ready to issue permits.

“We hold the governor to his word,” Smith said. “That this decision will be based on science and not politics.”

Governor Cuomo has said repeatedly that the matter will be decided on the basis of science and facts, and won’t be announced until his environmental agency signals that it is ready.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.