The state of New York is officially moving toward a fracking ban.
After presenting the findings of an exhaustive five-year study on the potential environmental, economic, and public health effects of fracking, state Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner Joseph Marten said he would issue a “legally binding findings statement” seeking prohibition of the controversial process.
Fracking is the process of injecting high-pressure volumes of water, sand, and chemicals underground to crack shale rock and let gas flow out more easily.
The study presented Wednesday had few good things to say. It noted that peer-reviewed studies on how fracking affects public health were few and far between; that the process had the potential to pollute New York’s many reservoirs and aquifers; and that the economic benefit to the state would be “clearly lower than intially forecast.”
“Would I live in a community with [fracking] based on the information we have now? … After looking at the plethora of reports, my answer is no,” acting state health commissioner Howard Zucker said. “I cannot support high volume hydraulic fracturing in the great State of New York.”
The debate over whether New York should allow fracking has been long and drawn out. A moratorium on the process has been in effect since 2008, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had historically said he wouldn’t consider lifting the ban until the review of possible environmental and health impacts was completed. His position on the issue was that he was “not a scientist” — a refrain he repeated on Wednesday — and that he would leave it up to the experts to decide whether fracking would be safe for the state.
“Let’s bring the emotion down and let’s ask the qualified experts what their opinion is,” Cuomo said on Wednesday before the results of the report were announced. “I will be bound by what the experts say because I am not in a position to second-guess them with my expertise.”
Describing the results of the report, Zucker and Marten painted a picture of a process with great risk and little benefit. “The potenial adverse impacts are wide-ranging and widepread,” Martens said, noting increased truck traffic and accidents, the potential for air and water pollution, and the inability of small communities to deal with the “overwhelming” costs of compliance with safety measures.
Marten also cited legal prohibitions either proposed or already in place in New York, including the “legal game changer” of a recent court decision that allows towns to ban fracking themselves. With that decision and proposed fracking bans near aquifers and in state parks, Marten said that 7.5 million acres, or 63 percent of Marcellus shale, would already be off limits to fracking. Activists say that 170 towns and cities in New York have already passed fracking bans or moratoria.
Health Commissioner Zucker said his department spent a cumulative 4,500 hours working on the public health review, which he said compiled all the peer-reviewed research on the potential health effects of fracking. What he found, he said, was a decisive lack of long-term studies to make an informed decision.
“The bottom line is that we don’t have definitive evidence to prove or disprove the claims of health effects,” he said. “But the cumulative concerns … gives me reason to pause.”