Election 2018
Marc Molinaro said the governor's decision to block fracking statewide circumvented the state's 
typical environmental review process and usurped local control of these types of activities. | Jimmy Vielkind/POLITICO

Molinaro supports fracking pilot in Southern Tier


07/18/2018 02:56 PM EDT

ALBANY — Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro said he would support limited test wells using fracking in a portion of upstate New York, a practice Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned after intense pressure from environmentalists four years ago.

"I do believe that a closely monitored ... pilot in the Southern Tier is appropriate," he told reporters in Albany on Wednesday. "Again, closely watched and monitored — as was suggested before the ban was in place."


Cuomo banned fracking in 2014, after asking for a study of the health and environmental risks of the technology. His decision satisfied environmental advocates who pressured him to abandon the idea of limited pilots but left behind farmers and landowners in the rural Southern Tier who can look across the border to Pennsylvania, where the shale boom has brought an influx of economic activity.

Molinaro said the governor's decision to block fracking statewide circumvented the state's typical environmental review process and usurped local control of these types of activities. He did not say he would rescind a state environmental review released in 2015, after Cuomo's administration relied on a health study to block the practice, which also found the state should not allow fracking.

"I think the process should produce an outcome, not have the governor declare what the outcome is and then make sure the process supports it," he said. "I think a limited, closely monitored, DEC-regulated and watched pilot effort is worth considering, only in the context of ensuring that water sources have been identified and that we've created the ability to protect them."

Molinaro's comments drew immediate criticism from environmentalists. Alex Beauchamp of Food and Water Watch called any fracking "beyond reckless."

"Fracking poses enormous risks to our environment and public health," he said. "Moreover, with signs of increasing climate chaos all around us, we should be discussing how quickly we can and must move to a 100 percent clean, renewable energy future — not rehashing tired, old ideas about antiquated fossil fuels.”

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the practice of injecting at high pressures a mix of water, sand and chemicals to push oil and natural gas out of the shale rock in which it is trapped. The method has led to a renaissance of oil and natural gas production in the United States, driving the price of natural gas to record lows.

Opponents of the practice are concerned about the risks of a fracking well contaminating nearby water sources, but industry supporters argue the wells are lined to prevent such cross-contamination and that proper safeguards can be put in place to reduce such risks.

In the Southern Tier, where factories have closed and dairy farms are struggling to survive, the royalties offered by natural gas companies seemed like a chance for an economic boom. When Cuomo ran in 2010, he signaled openness to the economic benefits that fracking could bring to the economically distressed areas atop the Marcellus Shale.

Molinaro noted he had voted for a moratorium on fracking in the state while in the Assembly but said the purpose was to allow local and state policymakers time to craft regulations. He said Cuomo had not respected the process under the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

Cuomo issued the ban after a tough primary challenge from Zephyr Teachout, who campaigned against fracking. Cuomo's current Democratic primary challenger, Cynthia Nixon, also has sought to position herself to the left of the governor by pushing a ban on all new natural gas infrastructure and a faster transition to renewables.

Molinaro also said he supported continuing subsidies for new renewable energy projects. Cuomo has mandated getting to 50 percent renewables by 2030 and utility ratepayers are subsidizing new renewables to help meet that goal.

"I don't want to say that we should absolutely subsidize everything, I think we have to look at the economic development apparatus and the expense of state taxpayer funding for anything, just to ensure we're getting the outcomes that we expect," Molinaro said.

Supporting renewables "will allow us to transition to a zero emissions, in theory, zero emisssions over a period of time," he added. "You need to continue to expand new renewables and create a transition period, otherwise people are going to be left without the generation of electricity and increasingly high energy costs."

Cuomo and Nixon both support getting to a zero emission economy. Cuomo's administration is studying ways to get there, while Nixon has set a target of reaching that goal by 2050.

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