Fracking risks too big to allow drilling in N.Y., says Health commish


BY LINCOLN ANDERSON  |  On Wednesday, it was announced that the New York State Department of Health has completed its public health review of hydrofracking and that Dr. Howard Zucker, the acting D.O.H. commissioner, has recommended that fracking should not move forward in New York State.

“I have considered all of the data and find significant questions and risks to public health which as of yet are unanswered,” Zucker said in announcing his findings at Governor Cuomo’s year-end cabinet meeting in Albany. “I think it would be reckless to proceed in New York until more authoritative research is done. I asked myself, ‘Would I let my family live in a community with fracking?’ The answer is no. I therefore cannot recommend anyone else’s family to live in such a community either.”

In 2012, Joe Martens, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, asked the D.O.H. commissioner to conduct a review of fracking.

As a result of Zucker’s report, Martens stated at Wednesday’s cabinet meeting that he will issue a legally binding findings statement that will prohibit fracking in New York State at this time.

High-volume hydraulic fracturing pumps chemically-laced water at high pressure into shale deposits to crack them open, releasing natural gas.
High-volume hydraulic fracturing pumps chemically-laced water at high pressure into shale deposits to crack them open, releasing natural gas.

“For the past six years, D.E.C. has examined the significant environmental impacts that could result from high-volume hydraulic fracturing,” Martens said. “D.E.C.’s own review identified dozens of potential significant adverse impacts of [fracking]. The risks substantially outweigh any potential economic benefits of [fracking].”

The D.O.H. report concludes that it will be years until science and research provide sufficient information to determine the level of risk that fracking poses to public health and whether those risks can be adequately mitigated. Given the red flags raised by current studies, absent conclusive studies that disprove health concerns, the report states the activity should not proceed in New York State.

At the cabinet meeting, Cuomo thanked the commissioners and their respective departments for their work.

In an e-mailed letter to constituents, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver hailed the decision.

“As part of my deep and continuing commitment to the health and safety of all my fellow New Yorkers, I have helped pass in the Assembly, on several occasions, a moratorium on [this] controversial gas-drilling practice,” he said. “I am strongly opposed to risking the health of New Yorkers or the environment for the profits of the oil and gas industry.

“I wholeheartedly commend Governor Cuomo, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Health for the decision to ban hydrofracking in New York State. As public officials we have the incredibly serious responsibility of protecting the health and safety of those we serve.

“This ban,” Silver said, “will help protect the water we drink, the air we breathe and the quality of life in communities throughout our state. I am proud of the hard work we have all done in ensuring that we will be safe from the potentially harmful effects of hydrofracking.”

The Green Party’s Howie Hawkins, who ran for governor on an anti-fracking platform against Cuomo in the November election, praised the announcement.

“This news is a victory for all New Yorkers who have dedicated their lives for the past six years to keep fracking out of New York,” Hawkins said. “Together, we have won more than just a ban — today, we have a strong movement that must now use our people power to win the transition to 100 percent renewable energy for New York by 2030 in order to fight climate change.”

Heather Leibowitz, director of Environment New York, said, “Across the country, fracking has been a rolling environmental disaster — contaminating drinking water, making residents sick, and transforming forests into industrial zones. After listening carefully to the latest science and the voices of millions of New Yorkers, Governor Cuomo has decided to permanently protect the water, health and environment of the Empire State from the documented damage of dirty drilling. This is what true leadership looks like.

“Governor Cuomo has been under immense pressure from the oil and gas industry, but today he made a final decision to rebuff the polluters and stand up for the health of New Yorkers,” Leibowitz added.

Cuomo’s historic decision caps perhaps the most high-profile fracking fight in the nation. New York has had a moratorium on fracking pending the end of the five-year study of the hotly debated extraction method.

The Heartland Institute, a “free-market think tank,” issued a statement decrying the decision:

“By banning fracking, New York citizens will forgo a valuable use of their property, and their communities will go without the jobs and economic growth that come with fracking operations.

“It is sad that New York’s environment commissioner seems intent on rewarding environmental radicals for lying about the threats posed by fracking.”

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