9/22/12

Cuomo Administration Postpones Fracking for Public Health Study

The Cuomo administration announced yesterday that it will delay a final decision on hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") rules in New York State to allow the state Health Dept. to study the impacts of the controversial, high-risk gas drilling process on human health.

New York State has held off the drilling industry since 2010, when it imposed a moratorium on fracking to give state regulators time to conduct an environmental review and develop a regulatory framework.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is expected to release the results of the review later this month.

DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens and Health Commissioner Nirav Shah have been tapped by Gov. Cuomo to jointly analyze the public health impacts of fracking.  Environmental groups, although they welcomed the state's move, wanted an independent study. The Cuomo administration, by keeping the study in-house, can be seen as tossing a bone to the environmental lobby and hedging its legal bets.

The administration is caught in a squeeze play between the gas drilling companies and their well-funded lobbyists, and the state's rising and increasingly well-coordinated grassroots anti-fracking movement.  In response to the drilling industry's claim that fracking will create jobs, opponents argue that destroying the state's natural beauty, its clean water and its clean air -- at taxpayer expense -- would kill jobs in the vacation and agricultural sectors and increase public health costs.

Since 2008, when New York initially dodged the fracking bullet ripping through Pennsylvania and Ohio, natural gas prices have plummeted. If the drilling industry can't manage to break into New York State by the end of November this year, the drilling lobby will be back at square one in a bid for an extension, triggering another public comment period and a better-coordinated response from the anti-fracking movement.

Last time around, New Yorkers organized anti-fracking protests around the state and blasted the DEC with 80,000 comments to its proposed fracking rules.  Since then, the anti-fracking movement has grown exponentially as New Yorkers have waked up to the realities of fracking.

Fracking involves blasting millions of gallons of laced with toxic chemicals, water and sand into bedrock to free trapped methane gas.  The net result of this destructive, resource-intensive process is poisoned water, land, people, and animals.  Although the federal Environmental Protection Agency has yet to complete a study of fracking's effects on the nation's clean water supply, there is a wealth of anecdotal evidence of fracking's widespread negative impacts on the environment and public health.

New York State was targeted by the gas drilling industry because it sits on the edge of the Marcellus Shale outcrop, which contains natural gas.  The drillers say there's 20 years' worth of methane in the Marcellus. They don't talk about the long-term costs to us of getting it out.

Twenty New York towns have now banned fracking withing their limits.  A drilling company,  Anschutz Exploration Corp. and Cooperstown Holstein Corp., a dairy farm that sold Anschutz a lease, have appealed decisions by New York judges upholding the bans.

Cuomo, while dangling the state in front of the fracking lobby, has said he supports the power of local governments to ban fracking.

The article from Bloomberg Businessweek.

"Fracktivists" keep the heat on Cuomo [The Nation.]

Gas drilling boom underwritten with federal tax dollars [Yahoo.]

Fracking: boom or doom? [Village Voice.]

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