Climate

Report: New York Governor’s Office Altered And Delayed Fracking Study

CREDIT: AP Photo/John Minchillo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration edited and delayed a fracking study commissioned by the state, according to a review by Capital New York.

The New York news outlet reported Monday that the Cuomo administration had altered a report on the natural gas extraction technique commonly referred to as fracking. The report was commissioned in 2011 and was “going to result in a number of politically inconvenient conclusions” for the governor. A comparison of the original draft of the report, which was put together by the U.S. Geological Survey, and the final version, showed that some of the original descriptions and mentions of fracking-related health and environmental risks were “played down or removed.”

“The final version of the report also excised a reference to risks associated with gas pipelines and underground storage — a reference which could have complicated the Cuomo administration’s potential support for a number of other controversial energy projects, including a proposed gas storage facility in the Finger Lakes region that local wine makers say could destroy their burgeoning industry,” Capital New York reported.

However, it doesn’t appear that any numerical findings of the report were altered between the first and final versions. The news outlet acquired redacted emails between members of the Cuomo administration and the federal researchers who were compiled the report through a Freedom of Information Act request.

“In the unredacted part of the emails, a D.E.C. official refers to ‘alternate text’ that he sent,” Capital New York reported. “At various points, a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) spokeswoman thanks a state official for her edits, and reminds the study’s author that they are employed by a ‘science organization’ which is not in the business of advocating particular positions. A later communication suggests delays from the administration side, when the USGS spokeswoman refers to a need to publish the report ‘in a timely fashion.'”

A spokesperson for the Cuomo administration told Capital New York in a statement that the edits and correspondence related to the study were routine.

“While the report was drafted by USGS, it simply underwent a technical review by [New York State Energy Resource and Development Authority] staff and other experts, including experts from other state agencies like the Department of Environmental Conservation,” the spokesperson said. “Edits suggested through NYSERDA’s technical review process were discussed with USGS, which is common and standard practice between parties with any scientific study. This study clearly underscores the State’s resolve and commitment to having the most current and reliable scientific data to draw upon before decisions are made that may affect New Yorkers.”

Chris Amato, staff attorney for Earthjustice, told the Village Voice that he’s not surprised to hear the reports that Cuomo’s administration may have had a say in the final report.

“The Cuomo Administration has politicized the Department of Environmental Conservation and that’s evident a number of pending issues that are before the department,” Amato said. “The Cuomo Administration is deeply involved in the department’s deliberations on these issues and is definitely controlling the game.”

This isn’t the first instance of Cuomo administration officials communicating with the people in charge of conducting studies on fracking. In May, the Poughkeepsie Journal reported that two of Cuomo’s advisers met in 2013 with New York Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens and then-Health Commissioner Nirav Shah, who were in charge of a fracking review. However, a Cuomo spokesperson told the news outlet that fracking wasn’t the focus of either meeting.

New York state currently doesn’t allow fracking, under a moratorium that’s been in effect since 2008. New York cities and towns won a victory in June when the state’s highest court ruled that they had the power to ban fracking, but a statewide decision on the practice has yet to be reached. Cuomo has said he won’t consider lifting the ban until the state’s review on the possible health impacts is completed — a study that Capital New York notes has an “unspecified” timeline for completion, and which Cuomo said in September would be ready “when it’s ready.” The governor has faced criticism from both fracking proponents and critics for delaying his decision.