Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Treehugger Tuesday

New York State Bans Hydrofracking

From the New York publication "Capital":

Cuomo concludes fracking is too risky

By Scott Waldman 12:39 p.m. | Dec. 17, 2014 2 follow this reporter

ALBANY—A long-awaited study released by the Cuomo administration on Wednesday determined several "red flags" about hydraulic fracturing that could pose "significant public health risks," officials said at a public meeting of Governor Andrew Cuomo and his cabinet.

The governor's announcement, articulated by his acting Department of Health commissioner Howard Zucker and Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner Joe Martens, delays any potential gas drilling in New York State for at least several more years as more data becomes available.

"The evidence in the studies we reviewed raised public health concerns," Zucker said. "There are many red flags because there are questions that remain unanswered from lack of scientific analysis, specifically longitudinal studies of [fracking]."

"The science isn't here," Zucker continued. "But the cumulative concerns based on the information I have read ... gives me reason to pause."

Winding toward the conclusion of his presentation, Zucker said, "Would I live in a community with [fracking] based on the facts that I have now? Would I let my child play in a school field nearby? After looking at the plethora of reports behind me ... my answer is no."

He yielded to Cuomo, who thanked him for his "powerful" remarks.

The health study, requested two years ago by state environmental officials, provided the basis for an open-ended stall by the governor, who was loath to anger environmentalist opponents or pro-business supporters of fracking before his re-election. For the past six years the state has vexed both constituencies, without provoking an outright revolt by either, by observing a moratorium on fracking without actually banning it.

Zucker said the health review involved 4,500 staff hours reviewing anecdotal reports and a stack of existing studies. He spent 15 minutes offering his analysis of several peer-reviewed reports and making an analogy to earlier scientific thinking on second-hand smoking.

Martens, when he spokes, said that restrictions already on hydrofracking in the New York City watershed as well as local towns that have banned its development mean that "the prospects for [hydrofracking] development in New York State are uncertain at best."

At numerous points during his first term, and especially during his campaign this year, Cuomo cited the ongoing study as of the health impacts of fracking in lieu of articulating a position on it. In the meantime, a moratorium put in place by then-Governor David Paterson in 2008 remained in place.

(The health study placed the political onus on the Cuomo administration's health department for its never-ending timeline; respected former health commissioner Nirav Shah, placed in the awkward position of giving a series of non-answers to questions about the department's progress on its fracking study, left without saying much at all.)

In September 2012, after years of study, Martens and the Department of Environmental Conservation formally asked the state Department of Health to review the human health risks of fracking, leading to further delays.

The state sits on one of the nation's richest shale deposits, the Marcellus, and is the last state in the nation with a major shale play to authorize fracking.

Proponents say drilling will create tens of thousands of jobs in the most economically depressed parts of the state, where industry and jobs departed generations ago.

Environmental groups have cautioned that drilling for natural gas in New York will pollute water sources, increase reliance on fossil fuels and harm human health.

In June, the state Court of Appeals upheld local bans on fracking, which Cuomo said would limit drilling to areas that support the industry. More than 120 communities have banned fracking, while about 60 have passed resolutions that will allow the industry to expand.

For years, anti-fracking activists have been Cuomo's most outspoken opponents, protesting nearly all his public appearances and rallying thousands in Albany for the annual State of the State address.

Cuomo lost a number of upstate communities in his primary to Democratic challenger Zephyr Teachout in September, a showing she attributed in large part to the turnout among anti-fracking activists.

Following Martens and Zucker at the cabinet meeting, Cuomo said, "I get very few people who say to me, I love the idea of fracking."

Referring to the economically depressed areas of upstate that were candidates for fracking activity, Cuomo said the question now is, "What can we do in these areas to generate jobs, generate wealth ... as an alternative to fracking?"

Answering a reporter's question after the presentation, Cuomo predicted "a ton of lawsuits" in response to the decision.

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