New York bans fracking: Why shale is off-limits across state

New York fracking ban comes as state officials deem that shale gas extraction carries unacceptable risks that haven't been sufficiently studied. New York has had a temporary fracking ban in place since the environmental review began in 2008. 

Julie Jacobson/AP
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo greets supporters and anti-fracking demonstrators after casting his ballot in last month's elections in Mount Kisco, N.Y. Gov. Cuomo's administration will move to prohibit fracking in the state.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration will move to prohibit fracking in the state, citing unresolved health issues and dubious economic benefits of the widely used gas-drilling technique.

Environmental Commissioner Joe Martens said Wednesday that he was recommending a ban, and Cuomo said he would defer to Martens and Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker in making the decision.

Zucker and Martens summarized the findings of their environmental and health reviews. They concluded that shale gas development using high-volume hydraulic fracturing carried unacceptable risks that haven't been sufficiently studied.

Martens said the Department of Environmental Conservation will put out a final environmental impact statement early next year, and after that he'll issue an order prohibiting fracking.

The gas drilling boom in the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation underlying southern New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, was made possible by fracking, or high-volume hydraulic fracturing, which releases gas from rock by injecting wells with chemically treated water at high pressure.

The drilling technique has generated tens of billions of dollars and reduced energy bills and fuel imports in the region. But it's also brought concerns and sparked protests, over air and water pollution, earthquakes, property devaluation, heavy truck traffic and health impacts.

New York has had a ban on shale gas development since the environmental review began in 2008.

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Zucker said he had identified "significant public health risks" and "red flag" health issues that require long-term studies before fracking can be called safe. He likened fracking to secondhand smoke, which wasn't fully understood as a health risk until many years of scientific study had been done.

"The bottom line is we lack the comprehensive longitudinal studies, and these are either not yet complete or are yet to be initiated," Zucker said, as reported by The Syracuse Post-Standard. "We don't have the evidence to prove or disprove the health effects. but the cumulative concerns of what I've read gives me reason to pause."

Martens noted the low price of natural gas, the high local cost of industry oversight and the large areas that would be off-limits to shale gas development because of setback requirements, water supply protections, and local prohibitions. He said those factors combine to make fracking less economically beneficial than had been anticipated.

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