Environment

Cuomo Administration Officials: ‘Don’t Frack With NY’

New York environmental and health commissioners move to ban hydraulic fracturing in the Empire State.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration has tentatively said no to the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the state based on the recommendations of two commissioners who have studied the energy extraction process. 

Cuomo met with his top advisers and representatives of the media late this morning, and announced that because fracking is a highly technical field, he required more information and less emotion in his decision-making. So he deferred his decision on fracking to the findings of Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner Joseph Martens and acting state health commissioner Howard Zucker.

“This has been the most emotionally charged issue that I’ve ever experienced. More than marriage equality, more than the gun issue, more than the death penalty,” said Cuomo. “But I will be bound by what the experts say,” he said, before turning over the meeting to his commissioners. “Let the science decide.”

Martens and Zucker, who both spoke at length at the meeting, concurred that the risks to the water supply and air quality were too great to approve fracking. Dr. Zucker said that he reviewed the peer-reviewed studies, and that there was both scientific and anecdotal evidence of immediate health and environmental risks. He also said there were virtually no long-term health studies to help him make his decision and that more research is needed.

“The bottom line is that we lack the comprehensive long-term studies,” Zucker said. “The science isn’t there.”

Current studies he’s reviewed gives him reason to pause. “We have a responsibility to ourselves, but also future generations,” Zucker said.

Zucker said the “cumulative concerns” about fracking “give me reason to pause.” He also said that he would not let his family live in an area where hydraulic fracturing was taking place.

Martens said he would will use Zucker’s findings in writing the DEC’s final report on the issue, which he said would restrict fracking in New York.

This decision has been long delayed. Former Governor David Paterson declared a moratorium on fracking in 2008 and renewed it before he left office. The moratorium became indefinite when Cuomo assumed office in 2011 and commissioned a study, with the assistance of the U.S. Geological Survey, to assess the impact of fracking on well water.

Much of upstate and western New York sits over the Marcellus Shale, one of the most energy-rich shale formations in North America. The shale formation also extends into Pennsylvania and West Virginia and touches Ohio, Maryland and Virginia. The state has a second rich energy deposit, the Utica Shale, which lies a few thousand feet under the Marcellus Shale. Together, it is estimated that fracking could create an economic windfall for western New York.

Environmentalists and community groups have been bracing for the possibility that the Cuomo administration would approve fracking and that the study, which looked at naturally occurring methane in wells in the proposed fracking area, would be heavily rewritten and edited by state officials.

In June, New York's highest court ruled that municipalities can ban fracking operations within their territorial boundaries, after the towns of Dryden and Middlefield sued, saying they can write zoning laws to ban specific heavy industries, including oil and gas production. It also allowed 170 other anti-fracking measures passed by the state’s municipalities.

Some fracking companies were already closing up shop in New York after the state’s Court of Appeals Ruling. Thomas S. West, a lawyer for Norse Energy Corporation USA, one of the plaintiffs in the Dryden/Middlefield lawsuit, says he was disappointed by the decision, saying it would make it unlikely that gas drilling companies would invest in New York State.

“Industry has already fled the state because of the six-year moratorium,” West said. In the future, he said, companies will have to weigh whether to invest “the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars required to develop the resource, only to be at risk of a municipal ban.”

There were already permanent fracking bans in place in the New York City water supply system network and the Syracuse watershed, which are unfiltered water systems.

Cliff Weathers is a former senior editor at AlterNet and served as a deputy editor at Consumer Reports. Twitter @cliffweathers.

 

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