ALBANY - Anti-fracking candidates in the Southern Tier were beaten up and down the ballot after intense campaigns, some of which were framed as referendums on shale gas development.
In the 22nd congressional district, Republican Richard Hanna, an incumbent whose district was redrawn, beat Dan Lamb, a first-time candidate who was endorsed by New York Residents Against Drilling.
In another redrawn district, the 23rd, Democratic challenger Nate Shinagawa lost by about 10,000 votes to incumbent Tom Reed. Shinagawa was also endorsed by opponents of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for natural gas.
In the Broome County executive race, Democrat and anti-drilling activist Tarik Abdelazim lost to incumbent Debbie Preston, a strong drilling supporter.
Anti-fracking candidates also fared poorly in local town races in the Southern Tier, a region near the Pennsylvania border where shale gas drilling is most likely to begin if Gov. Andrew Cuomo allows it. New York has had a moratorium on shale gas drilling since 2008, when regulators began an environmental review of fracking, which releases gas from rock by injecting a well with millions of gallons of chemically treated water.
Regulators contend that overall, water and air pollution problems related to gas drilling using hydraulic fracturing are rare, but environmental groups and some scientists say there hasn't been enough research on those issues.
Drilling opponents in Broome County, a likely target for drillers, pushed for a transformation of the political landscape at the local level in hopes that a change in town boards could keep fracking out. Numerous town boards around the state have banned or placed moratoriums on drilling, but their authority to do so is being challenged in a state appellate court.
In the town of Sanford, drilling opponent Brian Stevens lost 661 to 219 against incumbent Town Supervisor Dewey Decker, a landowner hoping for gas wells on his farm. In nearby Vestal, incumbent Steve Milkovich led anti-fracking candidate Paul Logalbo 5,264 to 5,009 on Wednesday, but Logalbo said absentee ballots may decide the race.
In the town of Union, three candidates endorsed by New York Residents Against Drilling lost to incumbents.
It's unclear how much weight voters put on the fracking issue compared to other concerns such as jobs and taxes. But the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, which endorsed pro-drilling candidates, called the election results "a clear mandate. The voters have spoken in favor of natural gas development for upstate New York."
Karen Moreau, executive director of the New York State Petroleum Council, also called the election results a victory for gas drillers. "The results from last night's election in the Southern Tier should serve as a clear call for action in Albany to create jobs through safe natural gas development," Moreau said.
Anti-fracking groups focused their postelection comments on races in other parts of the state where winning candidates had taken a stand against fracking while not making it a central theme.
Sue Rapp of Vestal Residents for Safe Energy, which opposes fracking, said pro-fracking groups should not take the election results as a referendum in favor of drilling.
"All these election results mean is that big money is still a big factor in our electoral process," said Rapp, who said the gas industry and related businesses supported Preston and other drilling boosters. "We believe that the majority of residents understand that we are not ready for fracking anywhere in New York state."