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Update: Fracking and New York State – Waiting for The Science?

March 19, 2013

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation missed two deadlines in February for finalizing fracking regulations initially proposed in 2012. The regulations are regarded by businesses and others as inadequate for safeguarding the public’s health. 

Dr. Nirav Shah, NYS Health Commissioner, signaled that he requires more time to complete his review of the health impacts of shale gas development in a February 13 letter to the Department of Environmental Conservation’s commissioner, Joe Martens.

NYSSBC applauds Commissioner Shah and Governor Cuomo for not rushing ahead and hope they will fulfill their promise to take a close look at what the scientific and the health community have to say about the impacts of fracking.

Since no comprehensive studies of the health impacts of fracking have been released to date, Dr. Shah indicated that this delay is necessary to allow time to consider the conclusions of recently initiated studies. He specifically highlighted:
1. The EPA hydraulic fracturing study, which analyzes the potential impacts of fracking on drinking water sources;
2. Geisinger Health Systems study, which looks at health records of asthma and other respiratory diseases, accidents and injuries, and birth outcomes for patients living in close proximity to fracking activity; and,
3. Recently announced study of health impacts to be conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Johns Hopkins and the University of Carolina.

In his letter Dr. Shah explained, “The time to ensure the impacts on public health are properly considered is before a state permits drilling. Other states began serious health reviews only after proceeding with widespread HVHF. In my view, that is not the right approach for New York to take if we are serious that public health is the paramount question in making the HVHF decision.”

Commissioner Martens responded in a separate statement saying that he would move forward with issuing drilling permits without regulations in place – assuming Dr. Shah’s review determines that fracking does not pose a danger to the public.  Martens concluded, “If, on the other hand, the DOH review finds that there is a public health concern that has not been assessed in the SGEIS or properly mitigated, we would not proceed, as I have stated in the past. In either event, the science, not emotion, will determine the outcome.”

During a press conference on March 11, however, Dr. Shah announced he will complete his review in the next few weeks and does not intend to delay a decision for the final results of the three comprehensive studies despite highlighting their significance for determining the health impacts of hydraulic fracturing. Governor Andrew Cuomo added, “"Nobody ever said that we were waiting for the studies to be finished.”

But without waiting for the scientific research to be completed, how can Governor Cuomo and Commissioner Shah fulfill their promises to base the decision to frack New York on science?

We will continue to highlight the decision-making process for permitting, delaying or disallowing fracking by New York State officials.

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