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HYDRAULIC FRACTURING: Obama's N.Y. visit not likely to stir Cuomo on fracking just yet


NEW YORK -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo does not plan on using President Obama's visit to upstate New York this week as an excuse to reveal his final say on hydraulic fracturing.

The Democratic governor in a radio interview yesterday said he is no closer to a final decision on whether to permit the high-volume horizontal drilling method. The state is still reviewing the potential health effects of drilling in upstate Marcellus and Utica shale regions.

With Obama set to touch down in Buffalo on Thursday and make his way to Binghamton, which is smack-dab in the middle of shale territory, Cuomo acknowledged that the president has made natural gas development part of his economic pitch but said the state is still focused on analysis.

"The president's point that fracking has economic benefits, energy benefits, for this country, that's inarguable," Cuomo said during the "Capitol Pressroom" broadcast on WCNY in Syracuse. "Every area that has participated in fracking will tell you it's increased commercial activity." But Cuomo added: "The question is, 'Is there a cost to the environment and health?' ... That's what has to be assessed, that has to be weighed."

At Cuomo's direction, the state's Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEC, has been reviewing a state moratorium against high-volume horizontal fracking. The process is highly politicized within the state and has been ongoing for more than five years.

Obama's trip to New York is meant to highlight his plans to boost the U.S. economy in his second term. Many in the region surrounding Binghamton in Broome and Tioga counties have been insistent that gas development should be part of that picture as a way to help the struggling upstate economy.

Cuomo said he plans to welcome Obama to the state Thursday morning in Buffalo but did not say if he would follow the president to Binghamton. He added that he got an earful on shale drilling last week during a trip he made to Finger Lakes wine country to award the "Governor's Cup" to the best wine produced in the state. The winemakers "are all against fracking," he said on WCNY, "and they make that point."

Anti-frackers, in the meantime, are rallying behind their cause this week and intend to show up in big numbers at Obama's stops to protest the president's energy policies.

An email blast from Walter Hang, president of the Ithaca-based group Toxics Targeting, urged activists to "show up by the hundreds, if not the thousands" Friday in Binghamton "to make environmental history."

"We must show up in full force to tell the president that we oppose his support for gas fracking," Hang wrote in the email. "Given the national spotlight that we will shine on this issue, Friday also will be a critical opportunity to hammer the governor."

Hang called on protesters throughout the state to show up, urging "maximum turn-out."

"This event will dwarf all others in importance," he said.