ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — As about 2,000 opponents of fracking rallied Monday outside New York's Capitol, a new statewide poll showed a slight increase in voters statewide who oppose the method of drilling for natural gas.
The demonstrators cheered announcement of the poll results while urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to permanently ban hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in New York, saying it will harm the environment. Pending legislation would impose that moratorium, but rally organizers acknowledged it's unlikely to be enacted now.
"There is no compromising our water, our air, our health and our future," organizer Julia Walsh told demonstrators, noting they were working against the oil and gas industry lobby. The demonstrators called instead for the Cuomo administration to further increase the state's renewable energy sources, including a proposal that wind power provide 40 percent of its needs by 2030.
The Siena poll showed 44 percent of New York voters opposed and 37 percent supporting drilling, compared with 41 to 39 percent last month. "It's now a 7 point margin in opposition. That's the largest it's been in the past year," pollster Steven Greenberg said.
Energy industry officials want Cuomo to end New York's five-year ban on shale gas development and allow drilling in much of the state's Southern Tier.
Cuomo's decision is on hold while the state continues to study fracking's potential impact.
Fracking involves injecting large volumes of water, plus sand and chemicals, deep underground to break apart rock and free the gas. Environmentalists claim the fluids associated with drilling can pollute groundwater. Studies are scarce, but industry and many government officials say the practice is safe when done properly — though there have been cases in which faulty wells caused pollution.
At the rally, singer Natalie Merchant performed "New York is Your Land," a variation on the Woody Guthrie folk song, and the crowd joined, ending with the chorus, "New York was meant to be frack-free."
Beth Miller, a farmer from Bath in the Southern Tier, said many of her neighbors in the economically struggling region have signed drilling leases. However, some landowners in nearby Pennsylvania with drilling leases have found their checks diminishing recently, while others have lost their water, making their land useless, she said.
"I'm here because I'm a mother and our livelihood is tied to the land," Miller said. "First of all, we just can't live there if our water goes bad."
Poll opposition was 52 percent upstate, location of potential fracking zones, with a 44 percent plurality in heavily Democratic New York City against it. Drilling support was a 47 percent plurality in the city's suburbs. The poll June 9-13 of 804 registered voter indicated a clear divide between Democrats against drilling and Republicans in favor. The poll claimed a margin of error of 3.9 percentage points.
The New York State Petroleum Council said Monday that region has both high unemployment and high energy costs, while drilling presents a major economic opportunity. The group cited a report from HIS Global Insight that jobs tied specifically to drilling and hydraulic fracturing are expected to total 2.5 million by 2015, with many new jobs going to women.