Anti-Fracking Activists Applaud as NY Further Delays a Decision on Whether to Allow Fracking

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There is a collective sigh of relief from anti-fracking activists across New York today after news that the decision on whether to lift the state's moratorium on fracking had been further delayed. The news was released by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Department of Health (DOH). DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens released a statement saying:

[Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav R.] Shah advised me today that the Public Health Review of the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) of high-volume hydraulic fracturing is still on-going.

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 until that review is complete and I have received Dr. Shah's recommendations. He has indicated he expects his review to be complete in a few weeks after he has had an opportunity to review recent studies underway which are pertinent to the evaluation of high-volume hydraulic fracturing impacts on public health.

The previously proposed high-volume hydraulic fracturing regulations cannot be finalized until the SGEIS is complete. However, this does not mean that the issuance of permits for high-volume hydraulic fracturing would be delayed. If the DOH Public Health Review finds that the SGEIS has adequately addressed health concerns, and I adopt the SGEIS on that basis, DEC can accept and process high-volume hydraulic fracturing permit applications 10 days after issuance of the SGEIS. The regulations simply codify the program requirements.

If, on the other hand, the DOH review finds that there is a public health concern that has not been assessed in the SGEIS or properly mitigated, we would not proceed, as I have stated in the past. In either event, the science, not emotion, will determine the outcome. 

In a letter to Commissioner Martens, Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav R. Shah wrote:

In my view, that is not the right approach for New York to take if we are serious that public health is the paramount question in making the [high-volume hydraulic fracturing] HVHF decision. And as Health Commissioner, protecting the public health is my primary job.

The Department of Health review of the EIS is on-going. In particular we are focused on the relationship of HVHF to the health impacts of drinking water contamination, but also other areas such as air quality and community impacts. In recent weeks, work has been initiated or published by the scientific community to analyze these health impacts and which may help in addressing these areas. These are the first comprehensive studies of HVHF health impacts at either the state or federal level. They include:

  • The US EPA hydraulic fracturing study. This is a study of potential impacts of HVHF on drinking water resources. Commissioned by Congress, this includes 18 research related projects. The EPA published a 278-page progress report a few weeks ago which we are reviewing.
  • Geisinger Health Systems study. Geisinger, which cares for many patients in areas where shale gas is being developed in Pennsylvania, is undertaking studies to analyze health records for asthma and other respiratory diseases, accidents and injuries, as well as birth outcomes.
  • University of Pennsylvania study. A study of HVHF health impacts was recently announced, led by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and in collaboration with scientists from Columbia, Johns Hopkins and the University of North Carolina.

... From the inception of this process, the Governor's instruction has been to let the science determine the outcome. As a physician and scientist, I could not agree more. Whatever the ultimate decision on HVHF going ahead, New Yorkers can be assured that it will be pursuant to a rigorous review that takes the time to examine the relevant health issues.

Jill Wiener from Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy said in response to the delay:

This reprieve is a true testament to the power of public participation. Ordinary citizens from across New York raised valid concerns about the safety and economic viability of fracking for shale gas. Countless hours of research, writing and the occasional protest have not been wasted.

DOH Commissioner Shah is to be commended for identifying the need for a comprehensive study of the impacts that fracking will have on public health. We are counting on the Governor and the DEC to allow him to proceed without political pressure and to delay the issue of any permits until after a thorough independent health impact assessment is completed, reviewed, and commented on by the public.

Sandra Steingraber, biologist, health expert and founder of New Yorkers Against Fracking, in addition to a member of Concerned Health Professionals of NY said at the NY State of the State Rally to ban fracking at the capitol in Albany on January 9, 2013 where an estimated 1,500 anti-frackers demonstrated, "This movement of ours, this is our Greensboro lunch counter -- the Marcellus shale, our Stonewall Riot, this is our Seneca Falls Convention, this is our human rights movement and we will not be silent and we will not sit down. We're going to show him that there's another path and another way forward... The die is not cast. We can turn back and do something different."

Steingraber released this statement today:

We applaud Governor Cuomo, Commissioner Shah, and Commissioner Martens for not moving forward tomorrow. Commissioner Shah is correct that the state needs to take the time to do a comprehensive study of the health effects of fracking to protect the public health. As Commissioner Shah notes, no comprehensive studies have been done to date and New York must do so before making a decision about fracking. We are confident that such a review will show that the costs of fracking in terms of public health are unacceptable. Commissioner Shah has indicated how important it is to do this right, which means bringing the public and New York State health experts into this process.

Indeed, new information from one of the outside health reviewers, Richard Jackson, shows the need for public participation in the health review and scoping. In a presentation following his review of the state's health review, Jackson showed an alarming lack of knowledge about key issues relevant to public health and fracking, undermining the credibility of the state's secret internal review. See more here, from Concerned Health Professionals of NY. We call on New York State to release the current draft of the state's health review and open the process for public participation and comment.

Wes Gillingham the Program Director of Catskill Mountainkeeper said today, "Although [the DEC] can still do anything and this news doesn't mean it will delay permits, it's a huge victory. What this proves is that the people who have ridden buses, taken planes, gotten up at the crack of dawn and given their time and amazing effort to stop fracking in New York have made a huge difference."

The news that the New York State Department of Health's Review of the health impacts of fracking conducted by the Department of Environmental Conservation will not be completed by the February 13th deadline proves how many questions still remain about those impacts. This decision is an opportunity for more of the scientific data to be studied and for the pressure to continue building for an independent and comprehensive health impact assessment study. It's also time for a toast to all of the people who have worked so tirelessly to protest big oil and gas infiltrating the political system.


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