BY MICHAEL RICONDA
After years of research and political debates on the merits and dangers of hydraulic fracturing Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration announced on Wednesday that it has decided to prohibit the use of the controversial gas extraction technique in New York
The decision came with the long-awaited release of a study by acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, who concluded the benefits associated with fracking were outweighed by the costs. New York is the only state in the union that has come to this determination thus far.
Zucker argued in the report that, though scientific certainty on the impacts of fracking were not likely to emerge, evidence did point to the possibility of significant harm to local communities.
“…the overall weight of the evidence from the cumulative body of information contained in this Public Health Review demonstrates that there are significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes that may be associated with HVHF, the likelihood of the occurrence of adverse health outcomes, and the effectiveness of some of the mitigation measures in reducing or preventing environmental impacts which could adversely affect public health,” Zucker wrote.
The practice, which involves the injection of chemical mixtures and water into cracks in the earth to release natural gas, has driven a wedge between many communities split between the environmental hazards which might be posed by the process and the economic benefits it could guarantee to troubled upstate communities. Though a moratorium has been in place on fracking for five years, the decision, announced during a year-end cabinet meeting, would make the ban permanent.
The decision has been a long time coming for New Yorkers. Cuomo approved a limited program in the Southern Tier region in 2012, but scaled back his support for fracking when he decided to initiate a new Health Department study on the practice. Arguing he would defer to health authorities on the issue, Cuomo waited two years before he made the decision.
Cuomo had indicated several times that the report was nearing completion over the past two years, but both supporters and opponents of fracking have expressed frustration at the many delays it went through and alleged political maneuvering for a safe decision on the practice at a politically opportune time. Westchester County Executive and former gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino strongly criticized the report’s findings and accused Cuomo of ignoring the state’s economic stress to play politics.
“Natural gas exploration is being done safely in 35 other states under both Democrat and Republican governors,” Astorino said. “It’s supported by President Obama and Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, through guidelines already outlined by the EPA and other regulatory agencies. This ‘study’ is nothing more than a political document.”
Though hydrofracking activites do not occur in Rockland County, elected officials from the region have been instrumental in the movement against it. State Sen. David Carlucci, who co-sponsored the initial moratorium resolution, applauded the measure.
“Their recommendation will protect our environment for generations to come,” Carlucci said.
Since the discovery of the massive natural gas deposits in the Marcellus Shale formation, the energy industry has sought to set up shop upstate and begin extractions. In response, several towns banned the practice with zoning ordinances, a practice the New York Court of Appeals deemed permissible.
The State Department of Environmental Conservation is expected to finalize the governor’s decision by issuing a legally-binding statement next year to prohibit fracking.