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Photo: Emma Jacobs
Photo: Emma Jacobs

New York delays fracking decision again

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A February deadline on New York's process to allow hydro fracking will be missed, with Governor Cuomo's Health Commissioner now saying he needs more time to complete an on going health study.

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Reported by

Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

Governor Cuomo’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Nirav Shah says he wants to further study potential health impacts from hydro fracking, and will review some new comprehensive studies on health and fracking that have been released over the past few weeks.

Shah, in a letter to Environmental Commissioner Joe Martens recommends that any fracking permits should be delayed until he finishes. Shah says in the letter “the time to ensure the impacts on public health are properly considered is before a state permits drilling”.

Katherine Nadaeu, with Environmental Advocate’s, says Dr. Shah is right to ask for a delay.

“This is good news,” she said. “This is what the state should be doing, investigating the issues before committing to permit any fracking in the state.”

Shah will review three recently initiated or completed comprehensive studies on the health impact of hydro fracking, one by the US- EPA, one by a Pennsylvania health care system, and one conducted by the University of Pennsylvania.

The health commissioner says he’s going to Washington and Pennsylvania in the coming days to get first hand briefings on the studies.

Supporters and opponents of hydro fracking had been looking to February 13th as a key date to determine whether Cuomo was indeed going ahead with fracking. Cuomo’s environmental agency would have needed to make public the generic environmental impact statement by then, if it were going to complete a related rules making process by a February 27th deadline.  

Now, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens says he won’t act until the health study is completed.

“We wanted to go the extra mile and have the commissioner of the Department of Health look at everything we’ve done and now look at outside studies that are underway,” said Martens. “New Yorkers should be assured that it’s getting the highest level of scrutiny.”

Martens also confirms that he would not be releasing the environmental impact statement on February 13th . That means the February 27th extension of  the rules making process, which expires then, will also be missed.

But Martens says he still has the power to issue permits even if the rule making part of the process is not completed.  He says he can start issuing permits 10 days after the environmental impact statement is released. The environmental commissioner downplays the rule making process, saying it merely codifies whatever is decided in the environmental impact statement, and says it may not even be necessary to issue the permits.

“You don’t have to do the rules,” Martens said. “It’s good to have rules, they are enforceable, but we think we can do by permit conditions all the things that would be adopted  in a rule making (process).”

Nadaeu, with Environmental Advocates, says if the environmental agency does not follow through with the rule making, it could wind up in court.

“There are top attorneys out there that would challenge his assertion on that topic,” Nadaeu said.

A group of landowners in the Southern Tier who live above the Marcellus Shale and would like to see fracking commence are not pleased by the news. Scott Kurkoski  is  the attorney for the Joint Landowners Coalition.

“We’re extremely disappointed that the state missed yet another deadline,” Kurkoski said. “That is really hard for our members to take, since they’ve been waiting for so long.”

Kurkoski says his group is encouraged, though, by the news that the state could go ahead and issue fracking permits without undergoing another lengthy rule making process. And he says it seems the Cuomo Administration is throwing pro fracking interests a bone.

“That seems to be the intention here,” Kurkoski said.

The Joint Landowners Coalition had threatened to file a lawsuit if there were any more delays in allowing fracking, now Kurkoski says the group will continue to “evaluate” the situation.  

Environmental Commissioner Martens says he’s not doing anything, though, until he sees the results of the health review from the Govenror’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Shah.

“Be patient,” he says. “We’re going to get through a very, very thorough process before we get to a conclusion.”

The latest delay means the fracking review process will continue for at least a few more weeks.

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