Shift by Cuomo on Gas Drilling Prompts Both Anger and Praise

ALBANY — A few months after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was poised to approve hydraulic fracturing in several struggling New York counties, his administration is reversing course and starting the regulatory process over, garnering praise from environmental groups and stirring anger among industry executives and upstate landowners.

Ten days ago, after nearly four years of review by state regulators, the governor bowed to entreaties from environmentalists to conduct another study, this one an examination of potential impacts on public health. Neither the governor nor other state officials have given any indication of how long the study might take.

Then on Friday, state environmental officials said they would restart the regulatory rule-making process, requiring them to repeat a number of formal steps, including holding a public hearing, and almost certainly pushing a decision into next year.

The move also means that after already receiving nearly 80,000 public comments, the state Department of Environmental Conservation will be soliciting more input from New Yorkers about hydrofracking, or fracking, as the drilling process for natural gas is known.

The developments have created a sense in Albany that Mr. Cuomo is consigning fracking to oblivion. The governor has been influenced by the unshakable opposition from a corps of environmentalists and celebrity activists who are concerned about the safety of the water supply. The opponents include a number of people close to the governor, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a longtime environmental activist in New York whose sister is the governor’s ex-wife.

The fracking issue is the biggest environmental question, and the most polarizing, facing Albany, and New York’s decision is being closely watched nationally, as President Obama and Mitt Romney have both expressed support for increased use of natural gas as a means to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. The natural gas industry has been eager to drill in the Marcellus Shale, a deep underground repository that runs through West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. Extraction there was too complex and costly until the advent of hydrofracking.



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