Freeman Klopott and Martin Z. Braun (c) 2014, Bloomberg News. ALBANY, N.Y. — The New York state Health Department said Wednesday fracking for natural gas can’t be done safely, dooming prospects that Gov. Andrew Cuomo will allow the extraction process after a six-year-moratorium.
In 2008, the state banned gas drilling by high-volume hydraulic fracturing so regulators could conduct an environmental review and develop rules. In September 2012, Cuomo said he wouldn’t decide on the issue until after health officials studied its potential impact.
Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said at a Cabinet meeting in Albany Wednesday that studies on fracking’s effects on water, air and soil are inconsistent, incomplete and raise too many “red flags” for the state to allow it.
“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 damage water supplies and make farmland unusable.
Cuomo, a 57-year-old Democrat about to begin his second- term, said Wednesday 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.
Fracking, a process in which water and chemicals are injected at high volume into shale to free oil and gas, is allowed in at least 32 states. Since July 2008, when Gov. David Paterson issued the New York moratorium, the average natural-gas price on the New York Mercantile Exchange has fallen 60 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The potential for drilling in New York was already hobbled by restrictions the state is planning to impose if it were to move forward, said Joe Martens, the commissioner of the Environmental Conservation Department. The regulations, along with fracking 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.”
— Braun reported from New York.