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Fracking supporters start their push back

Jan 20, 2011 6:32 am
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has been accused by pro-fracking advocates, and the New York Post, of having conflicts of interest within his anti-gas drilling stance of late."][/caption]The battle over gas drilling, or fracking, heated up in advance of its move to the halls of our nation's capital this week, with the New York Post running a piece earlier this week claiming that New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who they describe as "leading the fight to block a type of natural-gas drilling in New York" - has a conflict of interest regarding his stance due to the fact that his private law firm is trying to drum up multimillion-dollar lawsuits against the practice in other states.

The speaker's massive Manhattan-based personal-injury law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, plans a pair of public forums this week in Pennsylvania and West Virginia to "listen to the concerns of the community, share information and discuss legal options" about the gas-exploration phenomenon known as "hydrofracking" or "fracking." Silver (D-Manhattan) -- citing risks of water contamination by chemical byproducts from the process -- has emerged as a leading foe to expanded natural-gas drilling, which proponents argue could improve New York's energy independence and revive upstate's long-stagnant economy.

The process, formally called "horizontal hydrofracturing," for the first time allows engineers to unlock stores of gas trapped in the vast underground Marcellus shale deposit that stretches from central New York to Virginia. Last month, former Gov. David Paterson extended an environmental review period after vetoing a six-month ban shepherded through the Assembly by Silver.

Silver was relatively late to the drilling issue, following the state Senate, and its current Senate majority, in promoting or passing moratorium legislation against the practice while its effects are studied in New York.

Drilling advocates, government watchdog groups and even some Democrats say Weitz & Luxenberg's anti-drilling push, which follows a similar forum last month in Pennsylvania, raises questions about the powerful speaker's independence on the high-stakes issue.

Things are going to get messy as this issue heats up beyond its regional battleground in the coming year...

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