New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo came as close as he ever has to approving fracking last month, laying out a limited drilling plan for as many as 40 gas wells before changing course to await the findings of a new study after discussions with environmentalist and former brother-in-law Robert F. Kennedy Jr., several people familiar with his thinking told The Associated Press.

The turning point, which could delay a decision for up to a year or longer, came in a series of phone calls with Kennedy. The two discussed a new health study on the hydraulic fracturing drilling method that could be thorough enough to trump all others in a debate that has split New York for five years.

“I think the issue suddenly got simple for him,” Kennedy told the AP, then went on to paraphrase Cuomo in their discussions: “‘If it’s causing health problems, I really don’t want it in New York state. And if it’s not causing health problems, we should figure out a way we can do it.’”

Kennedy and two other people close to Cuomo, who spoke to the AP only on condition of anonymity because Cuomo is carefully guarding his discussions on the issue, confirmed the outlines of the plan the governor was considering to allow 10 to 40 test wells in economically depressed southern New York towns that want drilling and the jobs it promises. The plan would allow the wells to operate under intense monitoring by the state to see if fracking should continue or expand.

They all said it was the closest Cuomo has come in his two years in office to making a decision on whether to green-light drilling.
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