Fracking Phobia? State Postpones Big Decision

14 Feb, 2013

By Joyce Newman, Environmental Reporter

Hydraulic Fracturing Water Cycle

EPA is studying the hydraulic fracturing water cycle and its impact on drinking water.



The Cuomo Administration has once again postponed its decision whether to allow fracking after receiving a letter from the state health commissioner, Dr. Nirav R. Shah, requesting more time for further public health review. Fracking is the controversial drilling method for extracting natural gas from its deep rock formations called the Marcellus Shale. The process has been under review by the state for more than 2 years. (See our previous coverage.)

In a statement released Tuesday, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens said: “The Department of Health’s (DOH) Public Health Review, which was undertaken at my request, is important to our consideration of high-volume hydraulic fracturing and I will not issue a final SGEIS  (Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement) until that review is complete and I have received Dr. Shah’s recommendations.” Martens also reiterated that the Governor and the state’s decision-making will be based on “the science, not emotion….”

Katherine Nadeau of Environmental Advocates of New York welcomed the postponement in an email saying: “In choosing to let information rather than deadlines drive the decision-making, the Administration recognized the many significant questions the public has when it comes to this potentially dangerous drilling, and committed to providing answers. This is precisely how the state should make decisions on public policy: get the information first, and then make a decision. Commissioners Martens and Shah deserve credit for not attempting to rush a decision….”

According to Kate Sinding of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Dr. Shah’s letter specifically noted the following health research has yet to be reviewed: (1) the on-going investigation by the federal Environmental Protection Agency regarding the impacts of fracking on drinking water supplies; (2) a study by Geisinger Health Systems to evaluate health impacts in Pennsylvania; and (3) the recently announced study into health impacts to be conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Johns Hopkins and the University of North Carolina.

But the public health findings from some of these studies could take many years, says John Krohn, a spokesman for Energy in Depth, a gas-industry group:

“At the eleventh hour Governor Cuomo’s senior staff announce that three studies, none of which are expected to be complete anytime soon, are the cause for the most recent delay. Meanwhile, state and federal regulators have stated natural gas development is a safe process and entire states are seeing their economies transformed.”

A roundup on the politics of the health review is provided here.

Graphic from EPA.
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