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Libous vows to block vote on fracking moratorium


ALBANY — A top Senate Republican on Thursday said he will fight to keep a potential moratorium on hydraulic fracturing from getting a vote in the state Senate.

Senate Deputy Majority Leader Thomas Libous, R-Binghamton, said his goal is to “make sure no (moratorium) bill passes the Senate.”

Libous, a staunch fracking supporter whose district sits within the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation, said he doesn’t want to see the issue on the Senate floor for a vote.

“I’m going to try to make sure that it doesn’t,” he said Thursday. “I feel that strongly on that issue.”

Libous’ comments came a day after the state Assembly passed a bill that would prohibit drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations until May 15, 2015. On Tuesday, Sen. David Carlucci, D-Clarkstown, Rockland County, introduced a similar but separate bill in the Senate. Carlucci is a member of the Independent Democratic Conference, which shares control of the chamber with the GOP.

Opponents of fracking — who say the technique could cause irreparable environmental harm — are hoping the IDC may be able to get a vote on a moratorium. Supporters — who point to gas drilling’s economic and energy benefits—will be leaning on the GOP to block it.

Carlucci on Thursday said his bill would ensure a decision on fracking isn’t made on an “arbitrary timetable.” His legislation would tie a moratorium to the completion of two outside studies of shale-gas drilling’s impacts: one from the U.S. Environmental ProtectionAgency and the other from Geisinger Health System.

“I can appreciate my colleague’s concerns,” Carlucci said of Libous’ comments. “I think the important thing is we need to put New Yorkers’ health first, and I think the prudent thing to do would be to wait for these studies to be done, get the science on the table and get all the data possible.”

Large-scale fracking and shale-gas drilling has been on hold in New York since 2008, when the state Department of Environmental Conservation first started putting together a review of its environmental impacts and permitting guidelines for drillers.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has yet to make a decision on large-scale fracking after inheriting the issue when he took office in 2011, and last month signaled it needed more time to review the potential health impacts.

Libous said the state’s process should be completed without the Legislature’s involvement.

“I’m going to lobby my colleagues in the IDC. I’m going to lobby my Republican colleagues,” Libous said. “Let the (Department of Environmental Conservation) and Health Department give the governor a recommendation and then we’ll either move forward or we won’t.”

Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York, said a potential fracking moratorium “demonstrates continued disregard for farmers, landowners and small businesses in the Southern Tier.”

“New York’s government could work to create progress and prosperity by expanding natural gas exploration,” Gill said in a statement. “Instead we produce delay.”

Critics of fracking, however, said there is not a “comprehensive understanding of fracking-enabled oil and gas development’s impacts on public health.” New York Water Rangers, a coalition of environmental groups who have been critical of shale-gas development, issued a joint statement Thursday urging “the Senate and Assembly to work together to enact legislation on this important issue as quickly as possible.”