Jan 3 The natural gas drilling process known as
fracking would not be a danger to public health in New York
state so long as proper safeguards were put into place,
according to a health department report that environmentalists
fear could help lift a moratorium on the controversial
Governor Andrew Cuomo is weighing the economic benefits of
hydraulic fracturing - commonly known as fracking - against the
environmental risks from a technology that could unlock a vast
domestic energy supply but also one that environmentalists say
pollutes groundwater and the air.
Potential hazards could be avoided by implementing
precautions the state has identified, according to a February
2012 preliminary assessment from the New York State Department
of Health that became widely reported in the media on Thursday.
"Significant adverse impacts on human health are not
expected from routine HVHF," or high volume hydraulic
fracturing, the document concluded.
Natural gas drilling in New York state could create $11.4
billion in economic output and raise $1.4 billion in state and
local tax revenue, according to a July 2011 report from the
Manhattan Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank.
Fracking is the process of releasing natural gas and oil
from rock deposits deep underground by fracturing shale
formations with chemical-laced water and sand.
The release of the document came as Cuomo's government
continued to deliberate whether to overturn a 4-year-old
moratorium on fracking originally put in place to assess the
effects of the drilling process.
The Department of Environmental Conservation is the lead
agency studying fracking, with contributions from other
departments such as health.
In late November, the Department of Environmental
Conservation was granted a 90-day extension to its original
deadline for completing a draft of fracking regulations in order
for its environmental impact study to be reviewed by the state
health commissioner and outside health experts.
Since the preliminary assessment was put together nearly a
year ago, was incomplete, and did not reflect the input of these
experts, it does not reflect the final policy of the Department
of Environmental Conservation, spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said
in an email.
"I sincerely hope that this is not where the administration
is going with the health review," said Katherine Nadeau of
Environmental Advocates, a group concerned over the state's
plans for fracking.
"It is nothing more than a justification for not doing a
health review and a defense for the plans and proposals they've
already put out there," said Nadeau, who had reviewed the
The Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, which
represents oil and gas producers in the state, called on the
Cuomo administration to lift the moratorium because the
experience of other states has shown that fracking could be done
in a way that protects the environment and public health.
"All ongoing environmental reviews, including New York's
health assessment, will make similar conclusions," Brad Gill,
the group's executive director, said in an emailed statement.
The precautions the health department document proposed for
the state to put into place were of varying specificity. For
example, the transport of drilling water that flows back out of
wells after fracking should be subject to similar requirements
to the treatment of medical waste.
The document's safety recommendations were less detailed
when it came to quantitative health risks posed by individual
fracking chemicals at different drilling sites, due to the
overwhelming number of variables at play.