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By Brad Gill

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s visit to Buffalo supports his promise of $1 billion to spur Buffalo’s economic growth. The key sectors for growth as determined by the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council – advanced manufacturing, health and life sciences and tourism – will all benefit from many factors, including low-cost energy to fuel their day-to-day operations.

Natural gas exploration is top of mind for Cuomo, too, given the controversies surrounding the Marcellus shale and the need to grow our economy over several sectors. While Western New York doesn’t sit over this energy-rich geology, the region can benefit from its safe and responsible development in the state’s Southern Tier.

In November 2011, nearly 200 people from businesses throughout the region gathered to learn how their shops could benefit from the expansion of natural gas exploration. Within months, Welded Tube in Welland, Ont., decided to locate a plant in Buffalo to capitalize on anticipated demand for its product.

Infusing more low-cost natural gas into our energy plans will inspire increased use and innovation. Consider the cost savings and cleaner air that could result from converting fleet vehicles to burning cleaner, cheaper compressed natural gas. This could save the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus considerable dollars for its vehicles. If the physical space occupied for the proposed Albany Molecular Research Lab used natural gas as its energy source, it will use a cheaper fuel source that reduces harmful emissions.

While tourists don’t flock to tour natural gas plants, their industrial operations don’t intrude on recreational terrain or interrupt landscapes. In fact, in Bradford County, Pa., amidst thousands of producing natural gas wells and active work sites, tourism soared by 24 percent in recent years, proving that festivals and a thriving wine industry can coexist with natural gas development.

The natural gas industry doesn’t request state or federal dollars to do its work. Operations are self-funded. New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation imposes a stringent set of non-negotiable regulations with which developers must comply.

While greater Buffalo won’t see shale gas development happen, relevant contractors, consultants, manufacturers and others have the ability to bid on a substantial body of work within a couple hundred miles. This fuels our economy and helps our state.

Allowing natural gas exploration in New York State uses our resources wisely, safely and efficiently and provides the energy we all need to power our plants, heat our homes and sustain our lives. As we work together to rebuild our economy and use this $1 billion support wisely, capitalizing on all opportunities for growth makes good sense.

Brad Gill is executive director of the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York.