In fracking fight, protests may be having an impact

It was a familiar sight early Wednesday afternoon outside the Senate chamber.

In front of the bright lights of television cameras and a handful of microphones and recorders, a coalition of groups and lawmakers opposed to hydraulic fracturing for natural gas stood next to six boxes packed with petitions supporting a statewide ban on the technique. The petitions had more than 200,000 signatures, according to the groups.

At the same time, members of a gas industry trade group were fanned across the Capitol and Legislative Office Building, selling the job-creation and energy-independence benefits associated with gas drilling to lawmakers and members of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's staff.

But in a battle that has stretched on for nearly four years at the Capitol, have the public protests and behind-the-scenes wrangling had any impact on the debate? Both sides said Wednesday that they have, but differed in how so.

"This process has slowed down to a crawl, though it's still moving ahead," said Sen. Tony Avella, D-Queens, who sponsors a bill to permanently ban hydrofracking. "I absolutely think we're winning this battle. I think (Cuomo's) getting the message."

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