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'Fracking' rally aims at political cash trail

Advocates for a ban on hydraulic fracturing staged a demonstration Monday in downtown Buffalo targeting some local politicians and National Fuel Gas Co. while calling for campaign finance reform.

About two dozen people held a rally in front of the Walter J. Mahoney State Office Building on Court Street, critical of what they asserted is the influence of corporate money on the issue of "fracking."

Citing a recent report from Common Cause New York, the pickets said campaign contributions from the natural gas industry are part of why there has been no ban on this type of natural gas drilling despite environmental concerns.

"New York State government has gone amok," said Jim Anderson, vice president of Citizen Action of New York. "The need for fair elections cannot be [overstated]."

The demonstration also included representatives of PUSH Buffalo, Food and Water Watch, the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club and Protecting Our Water Rights.

They held signs including "Fair elections, not fracked elections," "Save Our Water, Save Our State" and "No Fracking Way."

They cited a January report from Common Cause New York, a government watchdog group, that reviewed data from the state Board of Elections and found that the natural gas industry donated $1.34 million to state and local campaigns from January 2007 to October 2011.

The report found that State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, received $38,532, the most of any state legislator during that period. Maziarz is chairman of the Senate Energy Committee.

The report also asserts that State Sen. Michael H. Ranzenhofer, R-Amherst, has received $21,175 in contributions from the natural gas industry.

Demonstrators also took aim at State Sens. Mark J. Grisanti, R-Buffalo, and Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma, who are not specifically mentioned in the report.

They said that Grisanti has allowed a bill to sit in committee that would ban fracking and that Gallivan had a role in Amherst-based National Fuel Gas getting a compressor station built in the Town of Wales.

National Fuel is similar to other organizations in that it donates to political candidates, and its key concern on the state level is the overall business climate, a spokeswoman said.

"While National Fuel supports responsible and regulated development of the Marcellus Shale in New York State, we have no intention to pursue shale drilling [in New York], as our focus is in Pennsylvania, where 80 percent of our drilling acreage is located," spokeswoman Karen L. Merkel said.

In an email, Maziarz said that the state Department of Environmental Conservation is reviewing the issue and that there is "no 'predetermined outcome' on whether drilling will occur."

Maziarz has previously expressed optimism on the potential economic benefits from fracking.

Earlier this month, Grisanti, chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, unveiled proposed legislation that would prohibit the treatment of water from fracking at public facilities and create a tracking program for the waste, along with other environmental safeguards.

Grisanti is awaiting the state Department of Environmental Conservation review of public comments on its regulatory proposal for fracking, and he will do his due diligence looking at the issue, said Doug Curella, the senator's chief of staff.

Campaign contributions have "absolutely no impact" on how Ranzenhofer views an issue, said spokesman Dan Aikin, who said the senator voted for a ban on fracking in 2009.

A Gallivan spokesman did not respond to a request to comment.