Published February 20, 2013
John Payne puts on his best smile as he greets customers at Bob's Diner in Bainbridge, N.Y.
Most of his regulars are retired. The younger residents, he says, have long since moved away to find jobs in places like the Carolinas. Since the big manufacturers moved out of Bainbridge, there's not much opportunity here.
"It's not a thriving community unfortunately," Payne told Fox News. "Years ago it was, but now it's quite a depressed community. The younger generation here, unfortunately, as soon as they graduate from high school they're forced to leave."
For Payne, Bob's Diner is a hobby. His main business is Payne's Cranes, leasing heavy cranes to the gas industry in nearby Pennsylvania.
While his community is on hard times, business with Pennsylvania is booming.
"We're presently working six, seven days a week, 12 to 16 hours a day," Payne said.
The difference between the two neighboring states is a study in how the so-called "fracking" industry has taken off in some regions, while stalling in others -- where often political and environmentalist resistance keeps the industry at bay.
Payne would like to see his neighbors share in the good times -- see young engineers and skilled laborers participate in the new shale gas economy.
But for the past four-and-a-half years, New York state has declared a moratorium on fracking. And the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo will miss a Feb. 27 deadline to issue rules regulating drilling, in turn delaying a decision for months.
"We missed the boom," said Tom Santulli, the executive of Chemung County which includes the city of Elmira, N.Y.
Unemployment in Elmira is 9.3 percent. All the economic indicators are in the red. Yet deep beneath the surrounding county lies the gas-rich Marcellus shale, which contains billions of dollars in natural gas.
"We missed a golden opportunity, I believe to reshape Southern New York, upstate New York", Santulli told Fox News. "We need fuel and lots of it, and we've got the cleanest fossil fuel that there is sitting right here. We should use it, put it to work, and renovate these communities."
Anybody looking for the story of how natural gas can light a fire under a cooling economy should ask officials in Bradford County, Pa.
Gas companies have been drilling there since 2005. Nearly 1,200 wells have been fracked. The county seat of Towanda, which had been in decline after its manufacturing base moved away, is now a boom town. Even a recent slowdown in drilling because of rock-bottom gas prices hasn't blunted the growth. Gas revenues allowed the county to retire a $5 million debt -- and lower real estate taxes by 6 percent.
Fracking has been an economic game-changer for the entire area, said Bradford County Commissioner Daryl Miller.
"The amount of job growth has been phenomenal. The amount of business growth has been phenomenal," Miller told Fox News. He and his colleague Doug McLinko sometimes invite New Yorkers down to Bradford County to show them the economic benefits of fracking.
"Daryl and I take people on pick-up tours," McLinko told Fox News. "Come down to see the real story because most information when it comes to developing shale energy is misinformation -- mistruths -- and we need people to tell the truth. Fracking is safe."
For the most part, fracking has been safe in Bradford County. But in next-door Susquehanna County, a faulty gas well infamously contaminated the water wells of more than 20 homes in Dimock, Pa. The offending well was plugged and the EPA has certified the water now safe to drink.
But the lingering black eye is enough for the environmental movement to demand a ban on fracking in New York state. One of their prominent members is Matt Ryan, the mayor of Binghamton. He argues that the health effects of fracking remain unknown.
"I don't think we should, just because a few people will make some money off of this, go down a road we can't change," Ryan told Fox News.
Autumn Stoscheck tells a similar story. She's an apple grower in Van Etten, N.Y., and harvests them to make hard cider in high demand at restaurants in New York City. Water, she said, is her lifeblood.
"If our water is contaminated, we're either going to shut our business down or we're going to move out of New York state," Stoscheck told Fox News.
Ironically, Stoscheck has a gas well on her farm. It's a conventional well -- not fracked -- that she inherited when she bought the farm from her parents. While there have been no leaks, the well is beset with production problems requiring frequent maintenance. That means heavy trucks, noise and venting of noxious smells. She broke down in tears when asked about it.
"If I had the opportunity to stop my parents from signing the lease on this farm, my God, there is nothing that's worth doing this to your farm. Nothing," she told Fox News.
For now, the environmental movement holds the upper hand in New York. They have threatened dire political consequences for Cuomo if he gives fracking the green light. Many supporters of drilling believe he won't risk the ire of environmentalists should he make a run for president in 2016 and that fracking and its economic benefits will become a casualty of politics.