10/7/12

Cuomo's Cynical Fracking Gamble

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last week that the state is “restarting” the regulatory process to create rules for high-volume hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") for natural gas -- in order to avert a legal challenge.

“Restarting” the regulatory process could be a chance to not only do a real public health impact assessment, but fill the gaps in the current draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement before it becomes final, including:
  • The cumulative impact of multiple gas wells within a specified geographic area. Currently, the DEC has only looked at the impact of individual wells.
  • The feedback from states like Pennsylvania, where fracking has been going forward over the past five years or so. Field reports tell of serious health impacts, contaminated water, polluted air, and damaged physical and social infrastructure. 
But fracking opponents are warned not to read Cuomo's "restarting" the fracking regulatory process as enlightenment on his part.  The governor has made it clear that he will move ahead with fracking once he believes his administration can successfully defend any legal challenges that result from his unleashing the drilling industry on New York State.

As yet another prong of his litigation-proofing strategy, Cuomo has called for the State Health Dept. to conduct an assessment of the public health impacts of fracking -- rather than commission an independent consultant.

Only a comprehensive, rigorous Health Impact Assessment (HIA) utilizing quantitative, qualitative and participatory techniques (learn more here) will provide the facts and data necessary to make science-based decisions about fracking. Cuomo said that was his fracking goal, but he didn't really mean it.

In a North Country Public Radio report, Dr. David Carpenter, Director of The Institute for Health and the Environment at SUNY’s School of Public Health, who once worked at the State Department of Health, called the DOH "a political body" that reports to the governor.  Under pressure from the gas drilling industry and the economic development lobby, the commissioner of DOH, he said, will have a hard time saying "no".

Catskill Mountainkeeper and other observers of the fracking debate see Cuomo as making a cold, calculated bet that opening the state to the gas drilling industry, triggering a short-term boost in revenue, will result in net political gain.

More from Wall Street Journal.

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