A preliminary state report concludes that hydraulic fracturing poses no threat to public health if done with proper safeguards.
News of the report, which was revealed Thursday, has reignited controversy over the natural gas recovery method known as “fracking.”
The state Department of Environmental Conservation says the report is more than a year old and does not give an indication of whether the state ultimately will approve fracking in New York State.
But environmentalists, already bothered by the state’s secrecy surrounding its four-year study of the issue, are concerned that it indicates the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will be giving a green light to the controversial process, which has led to a gas industry boom along with health concerns in other states.
The DEC says no conclusions should be drawn from the “partial, outdated summary” issued by the Department of Health last February.
“The document is nearly a year old and does not reflect final DEC policy,” said department spokeswoman Emily DeSantis. “The final [supplemental generic environmental impact statement] will reflect the review currently under way by DOH and its outside experts. Once complete, DOH’s review will be shared as part of the overall ... process.”
Still, the report’s release adds yet another layer of controversy to the brouhaha over fracking as Cuomo and his top health and environmental officials continue to draw fire over delays and secrecy surrounding their drawn-out study.
It all surrounds reporting on the study by the New York Times, National Public Radio’s Albany bureau and other news organizations Thursday. The draft state report, now posted on the NPR-Albany website, outlines the Health Department’s February conclusion that fracking can be implemented in New York State without a significant threat to public health.
“By implementing the proposed mitigation measures identified and required in this [report,] the department expects that human chemical exposures during normal [fracking] operations will be prevented or reduced below levels of significant health concern,” the draft study said. “Thus significant adverse impacts on human health are not expected.”
If final studies support the state’s initial conclusions, the result could pave the way for Albany’s approval of fracking in New York, which has been under way in neighboring states for years.
But while fracking advocates want New York to emulate states like Pennsylvania, with its explosion of fracking-related jobs, environmentalists are still raising questions about the procedure’s impact on health and nearby ecosystems.
In fracking, vast amounts of sand and chemically treated water are injected under intense pressure into layers of shale thousands of feet underground. While concerns continue to be voiced over potential effects on the environment – particularly on the New York City watershed – fracking champions say the Marcellus Shale repository extending throughout the Southern Tier could someday produce a gas drilling bonanza.
Brad Gill, executive director of the Hamburg-based Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, predicted Thursday that the state eventually will approve fracking in a way to protect health and the environment.
“Environmental regulations, developed and applied appropriately, protect the environment, including human health. Our members have said this, and other states are proving it today,” Gill said. “And all ongoing environmental reviews, including New York’s health assessment, will make similar conclusions.
“We expect the administration will put an end to the continued stops and starts and allow our members, as well as Southern Tier landowners and businesses, to begin reaping the considerable benefits that expanded natural gas development will provide,” he added.
But watchdog groups like Environmental Advocates of New York continue to not only criticize fracking, but also the state’s approach to granting or denying approval. Katherine Nadeau, water and natural resources program director for Environmental Advocates, said the secrecy surrounding the process is unacceptable.
“He has not shared anything,” she said of Cuomo. “The administration’s entire attitude is ‘trust us.’
“We’re sure more has been done since this draft, but we have no idea what,” she added. “It’s a mockery of good government and leaves the public in the dark.”
Nadeau said the Cuomo administration so far has held no public hearings or sought public input as it conducts a fracking review in “utter secrecy.”
“That’s not the way to guarantee public safety and health,” she added. “And they have not done the assessments needed after four years. The administration has not done its job.”
She also said that the state should not approve any fracking based on the scope and findings of the draft report, adding she hopes a final decision will be based on additional findings.