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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Report: Cuomo meddled with fracking study

Several area residents interested in hydrofracking had mixed reactions Wednesday about a recent news report that found that a federal study commissioned by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration was edited or delayed before it was published.

The changes were first reported by Capital New York.

Cuomo has repeatedly delayed a decision on whether to allow hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in New York state, which covers parts of the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation. Several area municipalities have banned the controversial technique or placed a moratorium on it, and the federal government is considering whether to approve multiple applications for natural gas pipelines through the area.

Capital New York obtained an early draft of the report by the U.S. Geological Survey through a Freedom of Information Act request. It compared that early copy with a final version that came out after communication between Cuomo administration officials and the federal agency, which was also obtained through a FOIA request.

The report found that some of the author’s original descriptions of environmental and health risks associated with fracking were minimized or removed by state officials. The final version also deleted a reference to risks associated with natural gas pipelines.

Marie Lusins, a pro-fracking Oneonta resident, said with so much area strife over the issue, her focus is now on economic development.

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“It is hard to tell from the article whether anything about this highly politicized issue has changed,” she said.

Lusins said she is waiting until after the election, in which Cuomo is running for another term, to see what the report actually says. With so many municipalities already either banning or enactng a moratorium on fracking, she said doesn’t think any decision will have a big impact on the the area.

Earl Callahan of New Berlin, who is opposed to fracking, said the report just adds to his opinion of Cuomo as a “pretty corrupt politician.”

Cuomo was elected saying he was going to change things, including political corruption, Callahan said, but “he hasn’t done anything,” and his decision on fracking will be “determined by his political aspirations.”

Guilford resident Tania Benkovitz said she hasn’t heard about the report but doesn’t think it should make a difference. Benkovitz said many states have benefited from fracking where it has properly regulated, and natural gas releases fewer greenhouse gases than fossil fuels. She said she doesn’t think Cuomo would do anything illegal on the issue because so many people are watching his actions in anticipation of a decision.

SUNY Oneonta chemistry lecturer Ron Bishop said he’s against fracking in part because it would increase the burden of regulation on the state Department of Environmental Conservation that would oversee the process, which Bishop said is already having trouble keeping up with its existing workload.

Bishop said he is not surprised by the Capital New York report, adding that having policymakers cross the line is something that Cuomo has done at all levels of government.

If it looks like the evidence pointed toward restraint when Cuomo wanted to move ahead, he may have felt he had to have someone make the changes, Bishop said. That could backfire, but “there is an alarming amount of entrenchment.”

Many people have made up their minds about fracking a long time ago, Bishop said, and “that won’t be changed by evidence.”