And while the document does discuss natural gas drilling in other terms, the omission of hydraulic fracturing by name – hydrofracking for short – is notable. It is also understandable. The drilling technique and its potential use in the Marcellus shale buried under large parts of the state are an emotionally fraught issue, having pitted neighbor against neighbor upstate and drawn the ire of environmentalists, even as supporters say gas could help solve complex statewide power problems. The state’s next governor will preside over administrative decisions that could decide whether, how and where drilling is allowed to take place, and for Cuomo, the debate is particularly sensitive: Power companies with a stake in natural gas are among his campaign’s largest contributors.
Proponents say drilling into the shale, which often involves pumping water and chemicals into cracks in the rock deep underground, could yield enough natural gas to change New York’s power landscape profoundly, providing plentiful fuel for power plants across the state and the country while replacing coal, a dirtier resource, in rehabilitated older plants. Critics maintain it threatens to poison groundwater wherever it occurs, including in the vast watershed that supplies drinking water to New York City.
Where The Candidates Stand
Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for governor – who did not respond to requests for comment – sides with proponents. His support for drilling in the shale treats the safety of hydrofracking as a foregone conclusion, and, his web site says, his support “means drilling the Marcellus Shale safely – and immediately – outside the New York City water table.
“We'll tap the easternmost part of the Marcellus Shale when drilling is green-lighted there, too,” the site adds. “And we'll get that done without undue delays.”
Just as concisely, candidates to Cuomo’s left – City Council member Charles Barron of the Freedom Party and the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins – favor an outright ban. Cuomo’s position is both more nuanced and less clear.
While he didn't respond to requests for comment either, in his campaign literature and statements Cuomo indicates that he is seeking to maintain a tenuous balance – to encourage expanded natural gas use, as he does in his power agenda, while ensuring that the gas is obtained in a way that does no harm to the environment.
“Because so much of our supply of energy is based on natural gas fuel, ensuring a supply of low-cost natural gas is important to New York,” his position paper maintains, adding that drilling could help the upstate economy and reduce the need for more environmentally destructive resources, like coal. Still, it adds, “New York State must ensure that, if and when the Shale’s natural gas is obtained, it does not come at the expense of human health or have adverse environmental impacts.”
The Hydrofracking Debate
Drilling without human or environmental cost is not necessarily possible, said Craig Michaels, watershed program director at Riverkeeper, an environmental group that advocates strong restrictions on drilling.
“That, I think, is the big question on everyone’s mind,” Michaels said in an interview. “Is there a way to do this safely, and can we ensure that it’s safe in every instance? And I think the jury’s still out on that.”
Whether drilling is or is not allowed will depend, in part, on an ongoing review by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation – but there are other potential hurdles to drilling, too, including proposed anti-hydrofracking legislation. One bill, already approved by the state Senate, would impose a moratorium on the practice until May. Richard Capozza, a Syracuse lawyer, has supported drilling, calling the DEC’s reluctance to approve hydrofracking so far a “morass,” colored by “public fears and misperceptions” about the safety of drilling.
“Will New York clear the political and regulatory hurdles to make the natural gas ‘gold rush’ a reality,” he asked, in a 2009 article for the Oil and Gas Financial Journal, “or will it remain on the sidelines while other states such as Pennsylvania reap the rewards?”
Capozza’s take on the issue is important because of his job: He is chairman of the energy and utilities practice area, and the partner in charge of political giving, at Hiscock & Barclay, a law firm that has given $55,900 to Cuomo’s campaign since 2008, according to public records. (The firm, records indicate, has not donated to Paladino, the candidate who most vocally shares Mr. Capozza’s concerns about competition from Pennsylvania, where drilling has had a relatively easy path through state government.) Capozza could not be reached for comment before press time.
Energy companies are weighing in with their support for Cuomo at a time when power-generation and transmission in the state are in flux. New York’s energy market was deregulated in 1996, and consumers now choose between dozens of companies to provide their electricity. With power use expected to escalate over the coming decades, particularly in crowded downstate areas, companies are vying to build new plants and power lines, and to develop new fuel sources – all endeavors that require state and local government approval.
At least $140,000 in donations from the energy sector (not including individuals, law firms and engineering firms) has poured into Cuomo's campaign since 2007, with none of his donors giving to Paladino, who is behind in the polls. Brookfield Asset Management, which operates hydroelectric and wind plants, donated $32,000 through various subsidiaries, and NRG Energy, operator of natural gas, coal and oil plants in New York, gave $10,000. (The company is also acquiring Green Mountain Energy, which sells wind and hydroelectric power at New York City farmers’ markets.)
National Grid, the multinational energy company, donated $3,000 to Cuomo, and its subsidiary Keyspan, donated $1,000. An even larger Cuomo contribution came from Robert Catell, former chairman of National Grid’s American division, who is now chairman of the Advanced Energy Center Advisory Board at Stony Brook University.