Documents add to New York debate on hydraulic fracturing

ALBANY, N.Y. — Documents show a Houston gas drilling company tied to state Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox is authorized to do business in New York and is concerned about opposition here to the practice of hydraulic fracturing, although the company said it has no plans to use the technique in New York.

Cox recently began a campaign of criticism of Gov. Andrew Cuomo for not lifting a longstanding moratorium against the drilling technique, a thorny political issue that has dogged the governor. The state Democratic Committee said the documents show Cox has a conflict of interest and has misled New Yorkers.

But Cox and Houston-based Noble Energy continue to say they aren’t interested in drilling in New York even if hydraulic fracturing is approved and officials at the agencies where the documents are filed say the records support that assertion.

“The governor’s people, who very much want to control everything, are orchestrating this,” Cox said of the accusations. “This is an issue where they are vulnerable because they say, ‘New York is open for business,’ but they have made it clear they are closed for this business when 30 other states have come up with regulations to make it work.”

Cuomo continues to delay a decision on whether to authorize hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, which extends into upstate’s Southern Tier. The relatively new technique, also called fracking, injects water and chemicals deep underground to extract oil and gas. Cuomo says he is waiting for the results of a public health study he ordered.

Meanwhile, Cox is leading the effort to expand fracking, which is supported by business groups and some Southern Tier residents hungry for jobs and revenue they see from fracking in Pennsylvania. They say Cuomo is bowing to a liberal political base that opposes fracking as a threat to the environment at the expense of upstate residents.

Cox said his ties to Houston-based Noble Energy Inc. have nothing to do with his criticism of Cuomo. Rather, he said, his experience gives him the expertise to poke holes in Cuomo’s concerns.

Cox collects $250,000 to $350,000 annually for his duties as a director of Noble, where he deals with environmental safety concerns. He held $2.75 million to $3 million in Noble stock, according to his 2012 state ethics filing. His wife, Tricia Nixon Cox, daughter of the late President Richard Nixon, had $1 million to $1.25 million in Noble stock.

Democratic Sen. Timothy Kennedy of Buffalo has asked the state ethics commission to investigate Cox for “unethical or potentially illegal” actions based on last week’s AP report about Cox’s holdings in Noble.

A week ago, Cox said in an interview that Noble isn’t doing business in New York and doesn’t intend to.

But Noble has reserved its right to do business in New York, according to a document called a business certificate that it filed with the state Department of State in 2010 and which remains active. Departmental spokesman Edison Alban said the record is a standard statement regarding the purpose of the corporation, but isn’t an indication the company is operating in New York or plans to.

Noble’s annual Securities and Exchange Commission report for 2012 notes the company is concerned about “activism in New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia against oil and gas development activities, particularly regarding the use of hydraulic fracturing.” The filing doesn’t mention any intent to drill for natural gas in New York.

Cox and the company said the federal SEC filing is simply noting a concern that could affect their operations outside New York.
He said Noble’s business certificate is necessary so it can participate in distribution of its gas drilled in the Gulf of Mexico and around the world. Distribution areas could include New York.

The company has no leases or other agreements filed with New York that would make it poised to capitalize if Cuomo authorizes fracking.
“Noble Energy does not currently have oil and gas rights or operations in the state of New York,” said Noble spokeswoman Reba Reid. “Additionally, no plans are underway to initiate operations in the state.”

The state Democratic Committee headed by Cuomo doesn’t buy it.

“Either Noble is lying to the SEC, Ed Cox is lying to the people of New York, or both,” said Peter Kauffmann, spokesman for the state Democratic Committee headed by Cuomo. “Either way, the people of the state have the right to know.”
Cuomo had no comment.
Consol Energy Inc., which had an active business certificate in New York from 1975 to 2011, has a joint venture with Noble to drill in the Marcellus Shale. But that venture has no plans for New York, said Consol Media Relations Director Lynn Seay.

“We are totally focused on our footprint in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, so no plans to go into New York,” she said.

Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group said he sees no conflict of interest at this time that would violate the lobbying law, but it’s worth watching.

“It’s a legitimate issue to raise and to let the public know about,” Horner said.