ALBANY, N.Y. – Months ago, the Cuomo administration promised a decision within weeks on whether to allow hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.
Now, one of the key officials says there’s “no timetable” for a decision.
“It’s kind of like shooting at a moving target,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, the state health commissioner.
He said he had recently met with officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Marcellus Institute, which is based in Pennsylvania where hydraulic fracturing is well underway. The institute aggregates mainstream and trade news and “is committed to providing unfiltered information and analysis organized for business examination and decision support,” according to its website.
Shah said Wednesday that his meetings with the EPA helped inform his public health analysis for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who will decide if New York will pursue lucrative gas drilling. The practice is fiercely opposed by environmental groups and Cuomo’s political base.
In answer to a reporter’s question, Shah said he now has “no timetable” for a decision.
On Feb. 13, Cuomo’s environmental conservation commissioner, Joe Martens, said he expected Shah’s review to be done in a few weeks.
On Feb. 27, Shah said his health study, the latest milestone in New York’s five-year study of hydrofracking, would take several weeks.
On March 11, he said he planned a recommendation to the governor “in weeks.”
“I will continue to work on this until I am comfortable,” Shah said Wednesday.
A February Siena College poll shows that New Yorkers statewide and even in the Southern Tier, where much of the lucrative fracking would be done, were split on the issue.
Meanwhile, both sides continue their heated rhetoric in lobbying Albany.
“New Yorkers deserve a thorough, comprehensive health impact study, not a secret health review,” said Alex Beauchamp of Food and Water Watch and New Yorkers Against Fracking. “We are confident that a real study of the health impacts of fracking will find that the risks to our air and water are far too great.”
Brad Gill of the Independent Oil and Gas Association, which supports hydrofracking, said years of inaction in Albany have come at a “great cost, in lost jobs and opportunity for New York.”
“However, we are encouraged to learn that Dr. Shah has visited Pennsylvania to evaluate its regulatory structure, and is consulting with the U.S. EPA, which has concluded on numerous occasions that drilling is safe and has never contaminated groundwater,” Gill said.
New York has had a moratorium since 2008 on horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing, which frees natural gas from shale by injecting a well with chemically treated water and sand at enormous pressure. Other states in the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation have seen local economies boom as drilling rigs have sprouted up.