New York state bans fracking, citing health concerns

New York state has banned hydraulic fracturing, the drilling technique known as fracking, citing risks to the state’s air and water, as well as other potential harmful effects on people’s health.

The decision was announced by the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who had sent mixed signals previously about his intentions.

The New York Times reported:

The question of whether to allow fracking has been one of the most divisive public policy debates in New York in years, pitting environmentalists against others who saw it as a critical way to bring jobs to economically stagnant portions of upstate.

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat who has prided himself on taking swift and decisive action on other contentious issues like gun control, took the opposite approach on fracking. He repeatedly put off making a decision on how to proceed, most recently citing a continuing — and seemingly never-ending — study by state health officials.

On Wednesday, six weeks after Mr. Cuomo won re-election to a second term, the long-awaited health study finally materialized.

According to ThinkProgress:

… state Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner Joseph Marten said he would issue a “legally binding findings statement” seeking prohibition of the controversial process.

Fracking involves injecting water and chemicals into shale rock to free trapped oil and natural gas. The practice has been in limbo in the state for the past five years, but in June a state appeals court ruled in favor of local governments seeking to ban fracking on their own. In light of that decision, along with proposed bans on fracking near aquifers and in state parks, according to ThinkProgress:

… Marten said that 7.5 million acres, or 63 percent of Marcellus shale [a formation that lies beneath large sections of New York, Pennsylvania and other states], would already be off limits to fracking. Activists say that 170 towns and cities in New York have already passed fracking bans or moratoria.

The acting state health commissioner, Dr. Howard A. Zucker, said the state’s investigation had found “significant public health risks” associated with fracking. The NYT goes on:

Holding up scientific studies to animate his arguments, Dr. Zucker listed concerns about water contamination and air pollution, and said there was insufficient scientific evidence to affirm the long-term safety of fracking.

Dr. Zucker said his review boiled down to a simple question: Would he want to live in a community that allowed fracking?

He said the answer was no.

“We cannot afford to make a mistake,” he said. “The potential risks are too great. In fact, they are not even fully known.”