New York delays fracking decision again

Feb 12, 2013

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

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

Katherine Nadaeu, with Environmental Advocates of New York, says 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 hydrofracking, one by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, one by a Pennsylvania health care system, and one conducted by the University of Pennsylvania.

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

Supporters and opponents of hydrofracking had been looking to February 13 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 rules making process by a February 27 deadline.  

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens says he won’t 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 confirms that he would not be releasing the environmental impact statement on February 13. That means the February 27 extension of the rules making process, which expires then, will also be missed.

But Martens says he still has the power to issue permits even if the rule making part of the process is not completed.  He says he can start issuing permits 10 days after the environmental impact statement is released. The environmental commissioner downplays the rule making process, saying it merely codifies whatever is decided in the environmental impact statement, and says it may not even be necessary to issue the permits.

But Martens says he’s not doing anything, until he sees the results of the health review from the governor’s health commissioner, Dr. Shah.

“Be patient,” he says.