New York delays fracking decision again

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February 12, 2013

A February deadline on New York’s process to allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing will be missed, with Governor Cuomo’s Health Commissioner now saying he needs more time to complete an ongoing health study.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah said he wants to study potential health impacts from hydrofracking further, 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 recommended that any fracking permits should be delayed until he finishes, which he said will take at least a few weeks. Shah said in the letter “The time to ensure the impacts on public health are properly considered is before a state permits drilling”.

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

“This is good news,” she said.

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

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

Supporters and opponents of hydraulic fracturing 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 rulemaking process by a February 27th deadline.

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said he will not 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,” said Martens. “New Yorkers should be assured that it’s getting the highest level of scrutiny.”

Martens also confirmed that he would not be releasing the environmental impact statement on February 13th. That means the February 27th extension of the rulemaking process will also be missed, causing it to expire.

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

But, Martens said, he is not doing anything, until he sees the results of the health review from the Govenror’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Shah.

“Be patient,” he said.