New York fracking opponents seek extended moratorium

ALBANY, New York Fri Jan 6, 2012 5:20pm EST

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ALBANY, New York (Reuters) - New York state lawmakers will once again consider proposals to extend a moratorium on the controversial gas-drilling method known as fracking, with opponents vowing to pursue new legislation this year.

Fracking involves blasting millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into rock formations to release the gas trapped inside. New York is considering whether to open the state to the process formally known as high-volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing.

A final decision is expected later this year.

Pointing to experiences in other states, including Pennsylvania and Colorado, critics say the practice could contaminate drinking water and air, cause small earthquakes and lower property values. Supporters say allowing fracking in New York would create an important domestic source of energy and thousands of jobs for depressed rural areas.

State Assembly Environmental Committee Chair Robert Sweeney said on Friday he would soon introduce a proposal to have a moratorium on fracking until June 1, 2013. Sweeney pointed to recent reports that fracking may have caused a series of small earthquakes in Ohio and contaminated drinking water in Wyoming and Dimock, Pennsylvania.

"As time goes by, more information comes forward and there continues to be a lack of strong public support, specifically in upstate areas that will be directly affected by this," said Sweeney, a Democrat from Long Island.

The Democrat-dominated assembly has twice passed moratoriums on fracking. The first, in 2010, was vetoed by then-Governor David Paterson, who replaced it with a narrower ban that expired last year. An extension was approved by the assembly last year, but stalled in the Republican-led Senate.

Sen. Greg Ball, a Republican from Putnam County who recently became a vocal opponent of fracking after visiting communities in neighboring Pennsylvania, recently called for a one-year ban on drilling.

"In other states they rolled out the red carpet for fracking without having proper funding, manpower and regulations in place," Ball told a crowd at a December 28 event in his district. "Families have had their drinking water contaminated, experienced death of their livestock and witnessed the values of their homes drop by 90 percent."

Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has repeatedly said fracking should not be approved unless it can be done safely, but he has not indicated whether he agrees with findings released last year by the state Department of Environmental Conservation that strict regulation would prevent any negative impact.

His office does not comment on proposed legislation.

The department last year released a set of proposed regulations for fracking, and a panel of environmentalists and industry officials are working on some of the regulatory details. A public comment period on the proposals ends next week.

(Editing by Daniel Trotta and Dale Hudson)

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