Opponents of hydrofracking got an early holiday present as the acting commissioner of the State Department of Health recommended on Wednesday, December 17, based on a survey of the impact of hydrofracking on public health, that the state not allow the controversial practice upstate.
Based on the review made by acting DOH Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, the commissioner of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Joe Martens subsequently announced that he would issue a findings statement in early 2015 to prohibit high-volume hydraulic fracturing, a decision that Riverkeeper applauded as “a victory for New York’s water and public health.”
Citing “risks to public health which as of yet are unanswered,” Zucker said, “I think it would be reckless to proceed in New York until more authoritative research is done. I asked myself, ‘would I let my family live in a community with fracking?’ The answer is no. I therefore cannot recommend anyone else’s family to live in such a community either.”
“DEC’s own review identified dozens of potential significant adverse impacts,” noted Martens. “Further, with the exclusion of sensitive natural, cultural and historic resources and the increasing number of towns that have enacted bans and moratoria, the risks substantially outweigh any potential economic benefits.”
The controversial process, which utilizes toxic chemicals pumped with water into an underground well at high pressure, enables companies to extract natural gas from rock.
The process has the potential to be a huge money-maker for upstate communities and property-owners where the gas is located; however, opponents of fracking have expressed concern about the impacts on the environment, particularly in the vicinity of the New York City watershed, where portions of the gas-rich Marcellus Shale are located.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams applauded the decision, noting, “As a state senator, I advocated to ban this practice for the environmental and public health risks it posed to my constituents. Today, Brooklynites can raise a glass of clean tap water in celebration of this announcement, with the knowledge that they will be able to continue to enjoy this fundamental staple of life for years to come. It is my hope that our state’s public and private sectors will focus more intensely, as my administration has, on pursuing clean, renewable energy sources that can create needed jobs and make us energy independent.”
Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz concurred. The co-sponsor of a bill to impose a three-year moratorium on fracking while its effects were studied, Cymbrowitz noted, “Too many red flags were raised to justify moving forward with fracking. When people’s lives are at stake, there really is no decision to make.”
Former Republican gubernatorial candidate and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino disagreed. Calling the study, “nothing more than a political document,” Astorino contended, “Natural gas is not only the key to transforming New York’s economy through the creation of thousands of jobs, it also would provide cleaner, cheaper energy and independence from foreign oil. New York is blessed to have an abundance of this natural resource. It’s a shame Governor Cuomo won’t exhibit the leadership to do anything with it.”