ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A new coalition of New York business groups, landowners and construction companies with influence in Albany politics is joining the controversy over hydraulic fracturing of gas wells in the Marcellus Shale formation.
Clean Growth Now says it seeks to strike a middle ground for safe, responsible drilling in the Southern Tier. The organization includes groups influential with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, his administration and key Republican legislators who will determine whether to allow the gas drilling. The gas industry promises a boon to long distressed upstate New York, but environmentalists warn the drilling will threaten drinking water with poisons.
"There's been a lot of talk, a lot of noise and even the occasional dose of hysteria," said a leader of the group, Mike Elmendorf of the Associated General Contractors of New York. "We took a very serious and objective look at the issue."
The group calls itself a grass roots effort and says it will be a moderate voice between the gas industry and environmentalists who oppose "hydrofracking," but it includes no environmental groups. It does, however, include the beginning of politically important union support for fracking.
"It's ridiculous," said Robert Moore of Environmental Advocates of NY. "Now you see surrogates of the gas industry dressed up as independent-thinking businessmen dressed up as grassroots activists."
He noted Elmandorf, for example, is a veteran Albany hand who was once Gov. George Pataki's director of intergovernmental affairs.
"These are some of the most politically connected insiders in Albany," Moore said.
Clean Growth Now plans no media blitz, but will work to persuade and mobilize local support and meet with key officials in Albany. Under its filing with the IRS, the group is limited in its authority to lobby for specific legislation and can't support or oppose candidates.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, injects millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure deep underground to extract natural gas in shale rock. Energy companies have greatly expanded their use of fracking to tap long unreachable deposits, including the massive Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania and New York's Southern Tier.
"We have to get it right and if we do get it right, it will mean thousands of jobs," said another leader of the group, Brian McMahon of the New York State Economic Development Council. "We have to drill safely and make sure the environment is clean."
The organization was welcomed by the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, the voice of the pro-fracking movement.
"We look forward to working with the Clean Growth Now coalition," said IOGA's Cherie Messore. "It's encouraging to see another group emerge that recognizes the value shale gas development and the economic impact it will have in New York State, while advocating for workforce development sound environmental practices, too."
There was no immediate response from Environmental Advocates, a key group opposed to drilling.
The group of 16 organizations includes the Associated Builders and Contractors, the state Business Council, which provided an important endorsement for Cuomo in last year's election, and the Greater Binghamton Chamber of Commerce.