NY assembly extends fracking ban for another year

ALBANY, New York Mon Jun 6, 2011 6:18pm EDT

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ALBANY, New York (Reuters) - The New York State Assembly on Monday passed a one-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, a method of natural gas drilling already under a temporary ban in the state due to concerns that it might pollute drinking water.

The moratorium on new drilling permits would run through June 1, 2012, replacing the current ban set to expire later this summer, when state environmental officials are expected to release a report on potential hazards of "hydrofracking."

The measure must also pass the Republican-controlled state Senate to become law.

Opponents say fracking, which involves blasting millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into rock to release the gas trapped inside, pollutes water and air.

Industry officials say opponents have exaggerated the environmental impact, while economic benefits to the state would be significant. New York is home to a large piece of the Marcellus Shale, a massive formation believed to be one of the richest natural gas deposits on the planet.

An industry spokesman said the proposed moratorium could eliminate up to 4,500 jobs on vertical hydrofracking, which is allowed. The current ban affects horizontal drilling.

"The state has had three years to put the report together, and we think that's sufficient time to get it right," Jim Smith of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York said.

Backers of the moratorium warned against rushing to issue new drilling permits.

"Prudent leadership demands that we take our time to address all these concerns. The natural gas within the Marcellus Shale isn't going to go anywhere," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat.

A similar bill passed both houses of the legislature last year but was vetoed by then-Governor David Paterson because it would have suspended other types of drilling. Paterson instead issued an executive order specifically suspending high-volume, horizontal hydrofracking until the state Department of Environmental Conservation could complete a study of the practice.

Since then, Republicans have regained control of the Senate, putting the current proposal's future in doubt. A Senate spokesman was not immediately available for comment. But opponents of fracking could have a powerful ally in popular Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo.

(Editing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by David Gregorio)

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