New York officials reject fracking


State environmental and public health officials have concluded that high-volume hydraulic fracturing is too risky to allow in New York.

In January, the State Department of Environmental Conservation will finalize its environmental statement on high-volume fracking, and as part of that process will officially prohibit the extraction technique in New York. Fracking is used in combination with deep, L-shaped wells to release natural gas from shale formations.

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens announced the decision this afternoon during a meeting of Governor Andrew Cuomo's cabinet. The DEC initiated its review of fracking in 2008 at the request of then-Governor David Paterson. In 2009, it released its first draft of the supplemental generic environmental impact statement, a document that laid out fracking’s potential effects on land, water, and air. It also proposed ways to mitigate those effects.

During today’s meeting, Martens and Acting State Health Department Commissioner Howard Zucker explained their reasons for rejecting fracking. And Cuomo stuck with his position: that he would abide by the science and the experts considering it.

"This is not really a layman's question," he said.

Martens said that the DEC's review identified dozens of potential negative impacts from fracking and too many gaps in the scientific research. But there is also the question of fracking's risks versus its rewards, he said.

Martens said that once certain proposed regulatory prohibitions and restrictions on fracking are factored in — including limits on drilling near primary aquifers and public water supplies and within certain distances of wells, homes, and public buildings such as schools — less than 40 percent of the state's Marcellus Shale acreage would have been available to frack. And that greatly reduced potential economic benefits to the state, he said.

Zucker’s presentation pulled no punches. He said that he wouldn't want his family to live in a community where high-volume hydraulic fracturing is taking place.

He pointed to studies showing a link between fracked shale gas wells and underground water contamination; one of those studies included research by University of Rochester earth and environmental sciences professor Robert Poreda. Similarly, he cited studies connecting gas wells and associated increases in diesel truck traffic with air pollution.

But perhaps most concerning, he said, is the lack of comprehensive, longer-term studies on various public health issues associated with fracking. Some are in the works, Zucker said, but they are several years from completion. The science that would show whether fracking is safe just isn't in, he said.

Zucker drew a parallel between fracking and second-hand smoke, which wasn't seen as overly harmful until scientists conducted long-term studies and found that it elevated the risk of cancer in adults and ADHD in children.

"Prevention is the cornerstone of public health," Zucker said.

High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing