ALBANY – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo suggested today a decision on whether to permit hydraulic fracturing for natural gas might not come before November, when he will be asking voters to re-elect him for another four years.
The governor’s comments came moments after Dr. Nirav Shah, his health commissioner, brushed aside criticisms that the internal Cuomo administration deliberations over fracking have been done in secret.
“The process needs to be transparent at the end, not during,” Shah told reporters in a session at the Capitol.
Shah said the science involved in studying the controversial fracking procedure “needs to be done in a sacred place.’’
Cuomo has publicly stated for more than a year that the decision whether to permit natural gas fracking – possibly in areas of the southern tier and western New York – will be left up to the science as determined by Shah and his environmental commissioner Joseph Martens. He has also said he expects a decision before election day in 2014.
But on Monday, Cuomo offered some wiggle room on the timetable.
“I would expect that,’’ Cuomo said, but then he noted the decision’s timing will be left up to Shah and Martens. “I don’t want to put any undo pressure on them that would artificially abbreviate what they’re doing.
“When they are ready and they feel (it’s) appropriate, they’ll tell us,” Cuomo said.
Asked when that might be, Shah said, “When I’m done.”
Environmentalists and the energy industry have been waiting for an answer from Albany since fracking was banned by former Gov. David Paterson.
The questions came a day after Cuomo announced the power plant in Dunkirk will convert from a coal-fueled system to natural gas. Asked about encouraging more natural gas usage while unable to decide on fracking in New York State, Cuomo said the two issues are separate.
“Do we burn natural gas? Yes. We have for a very long time … In my opinion it has nothing to do with a decision on fracking,” Cuomo said of the Dunkirk announcement on Sunday.
The governor said fracking is “one of the most important decisions we will make as a government, with far-reaching consequences, good and or bad.”
He said he understands both sides of the debate, but he said his administration will not be rushed.
“It’s more important that we make the right decision and a thorough decision. … Sometimes it’s more important to be right than fast.”