ALBANY, N.Y. – A coalition of health professionals, environmental groups and elected officials was calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to conduct a health impact study before any decision is made on whether to lift a 5-year-old moratorium on shale gas drilling using fracking.
Wednesday was the deadline for the Department of Environmental Conservation to issue the final version of proposed regulations for high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. But Commissioner Joe Martens has said the regulations won’t be completed until state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah concludes his review of potential health impacts and makes recommendations. Shah has said that would take several weeks.
If new regulations are proposed, they’ll be subject to at least a 45-day comment period and possibly public hearings. The latest version of the proposed regulations generated more than 200,000 comments after they were published Dec. 12.
The regulations drew criticism from both the industry and those opposed to fracking, which releases gas from shale by injecting a well with chemically treated water under tremendous pressure.
“There were deficiencies in the regulatory support document. They didn’t consider the impact to small businesses as required by law,” said Tom West, an industry lawyer. “Our biggest objection was the lack of flexibility. We welcome a high environmental bar, but it has to be an attainable bar.”
One of the main objections of opponents is the lack of a comprehensive study of potential health impacts related to widespread shale gas development.
In a letter scheduled to be released Wednesday, a coalition of health and environmental groups called on Cuomo to hold off on a decision until after three major health impact studies are completed. They also suggested a state-specific health impact assessment with public participation.
Shah has cited the three major studies – by the Environmental Protection Agency, Geisinger Health Systems, and the University of Pennsylvania in collaboration with scientists from Columbia, Johns Hopkins and University of North Carolina – as representing the first comprehensive studies of fracking’s health impacts.
Conclusions of those studies are likely years away.