The New York State Assembly adopted a resolution yesterday, March 6, to suspend state permits for natural gas hydraulic fracturing for two years to give lawmakers time to review health and safety data. The bill, Assembly 5424-A, would suspend such permits until May 15, 2015 and does not apply to drilling of conventional vertical natural gas wells outside the Marcellus and Utica formations. The state Senate is considering a similar measure.
Under the Assembly bill, a State University of New York public health school is required to conduct a health impact assessment to identify risks associated with the process, also known as "fracking," and to develop a long-term plan for monitoring, evaluating, tracking and mitigating potential health impacts.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver co-sponsored the bill with Assembly Member Bob Sweeney, chair of the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation. There are two "indisputable" facts relating to the issue, Silver said in a statement announcing the decision.
"One, the health and well-being of the people must always take precedence over industry profits. And, two, the natural gas locked within the Marcellus Shale and the Utica Shale isn't going anywhere," Silver said. "We're not going to lose it." He added that there are too many unanswered questions including what is the risk posed by the radioactive materials brought up in wastewater during the fracking process, and what is the best way to handle the salt-heavy, chemically laced wastewater by-product of the process.
The Assembly's decision follows a Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) call last month for additional review of the impacts to public health. The controversial process has also drawn protest from various groups and celebrities including Yoko Ono.
But Albany's recent action drew heavy criticism from industry.
"The Assembly's moratorium is another disappointing piece of news that further imperils the job creation and economic development potential of shale gas development in New York. This has been done safely throughout the country. The EPA says it is safe. The president says it is safe. The experience elsewhere says it is safe," says Mike Elmendorf, president and CEO of the Associated General Contractors, NYS chapter. "Instead of relying on science and experience, some in Albany prefer to listen to such noted experts as Yoko Ono," he adds.
Elmendorf says he hopes that the Senate does not take up the measure and that Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration makes "a decision based on facts and science." Such a decision, he adds, would support the fracking process.