By Jon Campbell , Albany Bureau
ALBANY, NY Opposition to natural-gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale is growing in New York as Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration weighs whether to allow large-scale hydraulic fracturing in the state, a new poll released Wednesday found.
The Quinnipiac University survey found 46 percent of New York voters oppose shale-gas drilling, compared to 39 percent in favor. It's the first time the poll has found a clear margin opposed to the hydraulic fracturing process since it began surveying the issue in 2011, according to Quinnipiac.
Upstate is still split, however, with 44 percent in favor and 42 percent opposed, while 56 percent of New York City voters say they're opposed. The gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation runs across upstate's Southern Tier.
"New Yorkers might be getting impatient with the long delay over natural gas drilling," Quinnipiac pollster Maurice Carroll said in a statement. "They're turning negative on the basic idea and more of them see foot-dragging by Gov. Andrew Cuomo rather than a careful evaluation."
Poll after poll over the past two years has shown a near-even split on fracking across the state.
A Marist College survey late last month showed 40 percent opposed and 39 percent in favor. Siena College, which put together the most extensive fracking poll to date, found an even split when they looked at the issue in February.
Groups opposed to fracking -- the much-debated technique in which water, sand and chemicals are injected into underground rock formations to release gas -- pointed to the Quinnipiac poll as evidence they are gaining momentum.
"The more New Yorkers hear about the actual health and environmental impacts of fracking, the more they oppose it," said Alex Beauchamp of New Yorkers Against Fracking, a coalition of groups pushing for a ban on shale-gas drilling.
New York has had a de facto moratorium on high-volume fracking since 2008, when the Department of Environmental Conservation began a review of their permitting guidelines and the environmental impacts of shale-gas drilling. Permits for the technique can't be issued until that review is finalized.
Completing that dense report -- known as the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement - now waits as Health Commissioner Nirav Shah reviews it. Shah's review was first launched last year.
Shah said last week his work would likely be finished in "the next few weeks," but said he's under no deadline from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration.
Karen Moreau, executive director of the New York State Petroleum Council, a group representing the gas industry, said the idea that polls should matter is "frankly a sad commentary on the state of politics in Albany." Supporters of fracking say it could provide a big boost to the Southern Tier's long-struggling economy.
In a statement, Moreau said Cuomo "appears to be letting the polls make his decisions."
"Governor, no more polls," she said. "It's time for leadership. It's time for a decision."
Cuomo had his own advice for Moreau and gas-drilling supporters, repeating a critique of their lobbyists that he first expressed in an interview with Gannett's Albany Bureau last week.
"Thank you very much for the advice on how to do my job, and here's gratuitous advice on how to do your job: Talk to the people of the state, talk to the legislators and elected officials in the state and explain to them why their fears are all unfounded," Cuomo told reporters Wednesday.
The Quinnipiac poll of 1,165 New York voters took place between March 11 and 17. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points, according to the university.