Obama visits NY amid fracking rift with Cuomo

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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President Barack Obama’s education tour of New York could prove to be awkward for Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo if the president is pressed on his support for hydraulic fracturing and expanded natural gas drilling.

The president has expressed support for fracking in the past and has been a proponent of expanding natural gas production as a way to cut U.S. carbon emissions. This conflicts with the Cuomo administration’s decision to delay environment and health studies looking into the controversial drilling practice.

Cuomo, however, is attempting to stay one step ahead of this issue, and has opted not to tour with the president in locations where fracking proponents and opponents are expected to turn out in large numbers.

The Associated Press reports: “Cuomo said Monday he will meet Obama when the president flies into Buffalo but won’t appear in Syracuse or Binghamton.”

“We’re going to be present in Binghamton by the hundreds if not the thousands,” said Walter Hang with the anti-fracking group Toxics Targeting. “It would be irresponsible to permit shale fracking anywhere in New York without comprehensive public health protections or liability standards.”

The Cuomo administration has been criticized for its continued delaying of the state’s public health study on fracking, which the state health commissioner promised was only weeks away back in February.

“The Upstate New York economy continues to decline and shale energy development offers an unprecedented opportunity to struggling farmers and cash-strapped communities to grow the economy and create jobs,” said Karen Moreau, executive director of the New York State Petroleum Council, in a statement.

Despite Cuomo’s delays, he has said that Obama’s view on the economic benefits of shale drilling is “inarguable,” but there is still uncertainty surrounding the environmental impact of fracking into shale formations.

“New York needs the economic growth that hydraulic fracturing will bring and we need the state to lift the moratorium so we can begin rebuilding our Upstate economy,” Moreau said.

Cuomo is considered a leading 2016 presidential possibility for the Democrats and has tread cautiously on fracking, which is heavily opposed by environmentalists as harmful to air and water quality.

“Governor Cuomo should continue to stand up to the gas industry and show the leadership that President Obama has failed to show,” said Alex Beauchamp of the anti-fracking groups Food and Water Watch and New Yorkers Against Fracking.

But fracking has helped spark an economic recovery in parts of Pennsylvania and North Dakota, which has caused some area Democrats to support the drilling technique.

A Muhlenberg College and University of Michigan survey from last fall found that 77 percent of Pennsylvania Democrats said natural gas is somewhat or very important to the state’s economy.

The National Journal reports that the front-runner in Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial Democratic race, Rep. Allyson Schwartz, came out against the state party’s proposed moratorium on fracking.

“We would urge the president, a supporter of developing abundant U.S. shale oil and natural gas, to speak to New York’s elected officials and residents and reinforce the fact that hydraulic fracturing, a safe, proven process, can deliver jobs and economic vitality to the middle class,” Moreau added.

Cuomo still has not given a timetable for when he will make his decision, but some speculate that he will wait until after the 2014 election or even until 2016.

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