Cuomo to Ban Fracking; Health Officials Call It Unsafe

(Bloomberg) — The New York state Health Department said

fracking for natural gas can’t be done safely, dooming prospects

that Governor Andrew Cuomo will end a six-year moratorium.

Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said at a cabinet

meeting in Albany today that studies on the extraction

technique’s effects on water, air and soil are inconsistent,

incomplete and raise too many “red flags” to allow.

“I consider the people of the state of New York as my

patients,” said Zucker, a medical doctor. “We cannot afford to

make a mistake. The potential risks are too great. In fact, they

are not fully known.”

Parts of New York sit atop the gas-rich Marcellus shale

formation, and the governor has been trying to balance the

prospects for the economic development seen in Ohio and

Pennsylvania against environmentalists’ warnings that fracking

may taint water and make farmland unusable.

Fracking, in which water and chemicals are injected into

shale to free oil and gas, is allowed in at least 32 states.

California is working on an environmental review of the process,

and local communities across the U.S. are mobilizing to stop it.

In November, voters in Athens, Ohio; Denton, Texas; and

California’s Mendocino and San Benito counties passed measures

banning fracking.

The ban in New York will harm the economy and deprive local

governments and the state of revenue, according to the American

Petroleum Institute’s New York State Petroleum Council.

“Today’s action by Governor Cuomo shows that New York

families, teachers, roads and good-paying jobs have lost out to

political gamesmanship,” said Karen Moreau, executive director

of the oil-and-gas trade group.

2008 Ban

The state banned gas drilling by high-volume hydraulic

fracturing in July 2008 so regulators could conduct an

environmental review and develop rules. In September 2012, Cuomo

said he wouldn’t decide the issue until after health officials

studied it.

Cuomo, a 57-year-old Democrat about to begin his second

term, said today he’ll let science, not politics, determine his

final decision.

“I will be bound by what the experts say,” Cuomo said at

the cabinet meeting before Zucker spoke.

Since Governor David Paterson issued the New York

moratorium, the average natural-gas price on the New York

Mercantile Exchange has fallen 62 percent, declining to $3.70

per million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile

Exchange.

Existing Restrictions

The potential for drilling in New York was already hobbled

by restrictions the state is planning should it move forward,

said Joe Martens, the commissioner of the Environmental

Conservation Department. The regulations, along with bans

imposed by towns and cities, cut out at least 63 percent of the

12 million acres where gas could be tapped by fracking, Martens

said.

“The economic benefits are clearly far lower than

originally forecast,” Martens said. “The low price of gas only

exacerbates this.”

In Pennsylvania, where fracking is permitted, more than

$630 million has been distributed to communities since 2012,

according to the New York State Petroleum Council’s statement.

The shale energy industry has generated $2.1 billion in state

and local tax revenue for Pennsylvania, the group said.

Federal regulations and state laws provide adequate

environmental protection, the group said.

Environmental Groups

In the six years since New York’s moratorium took effect,

many leases expired and companies left New York to drill in Ohio

and Pennsylvania, industry lawyers and lobbyists said.

“I don’t know of anybody who is shovel-ready waiting for

an announcement,” Thomas S. West, an Albany lawyer who said he

represents several companies with New York leases as clients,

said in an interview before the announcement.

The health department spent more than 4,500 hours on its

analysis, reviewing academic studies, consulting experts and

meeting with health officials in other states, Zucker said. The

studies and data showed many potential health risks, including

groundwater contamination in Wyoming and increased traffic

deaths in areas of Pennsylvania.

The report “concludes that it will be years until science

and research provide sufficient information to determine the

level of risk HVHF poses to public health and whether those

risks can be adequately mitigated,” the Health Department said

in a statement released after the decision. HVHF is an

abbreviation for high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

Environmental groups cheered the move, saying Cuomo

demonstrated “courage” and “national leadership.’

‘‘Mounting scientific evidence points to serious health

risks from fracking operations,’’ Kate Sinding of the Natural

Resources Defense Council said in a statement. ‘‘New Yorkers

have made it loud and clear that we want to keep this reckless

industry at bay. With this announcement, the governor has

listened.’’

(An earlier version of this story was corrected to change

National to Natural in the final paragraph.)

To contact the reporters on this story:

Freeman Klopott in Albany at

fklopott@bloomberg.net;

Martin Z. Braun in New York at

mbraun6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:

Stephen Merelman at

smerelman@bloomberg.net

Mark Schoifet

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