New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) announcement that he would ban high-volume hydraulic fracturing, more widely known as fracking, was praised by environmental groups but largely criticized by those in favor of the oil-and-gas recovery method as a way to revive economically depressed areas in the state.
However, some firms that work in the sector say they expect to see little change as a result of Cuomo’s Dec. 17 decision since the state has had a temporary ban on fracking since 2008.
Cuomo’s action is based on a recently completed state Dept. of Health review of the process of extracting natural gas from shale, which cited “significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes that may be associated with the high-volume fracking process, according to Howard Zucker, acting department commissioner, who announced his findings at a state cabinet meeting in Albany.
“I have considered all of the data and find significant questions and risks to public health which as of yet are unanswered,” Zucker said. “I think it would be reckless to proceed in New York until more authoritative research is done.”
In 2012, Dept. of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens asked the health agency to conduct a review of the environmental agency’s draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) for high-volume fracking.
Following the release of Zucker’s report, Martens announced that he would issue a legally binding findings statement that will prohibit the process in New York State.
The final supplmental EIS will be released early next year, he said at the cabinet meeting.
Major findings in the public health review included such potential environmental and health outcomes as air impacts that could affect respiratory health due to increased levels of particulate matter, diesel exhaust, or volatile organic chemicals; climate change impacts due to methane and other volatile organic chemical releases to the atmosphere; drinking water impacts from underground migration of methane and/or fracking chemicals associated with faulty well construction; surface-water contamination resulting from inadequate wastewater treatment; and community impacts associated with boom-town economic effects such as increased traffic, road damage, noise, odor complaints, increased demand for housing and medical care, and stress.
“Fracking has no place in New York or anywhere, and the governor has smartly seized a golden opportunity to be a real national leader on health, environmental protection and a future free of polluting fossil fuels,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, a founding member of advocacy group New Yorkers Against Fracking, in a statement.
But Karen Moreau, executive director for the New York State Petroleum Council, called the decision "a politically motivated and equally misinformed ban on a proven technology."
She said that the governor "acted irresponsibly by issuing a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing, putting the state's economy on a reckless path and ignoring the needs of New York families, economic opportunity, job creation, revenue to the government, and America's need for energy security."
"Revenue from natural gas production supports road and brdge improvements, water and sewer projects, local housing initiatives, environmental programs and rehabilitation of greenways," Moreau said in a statement. "We are resolved to continue to fight for these benefits."
Jay Simson, president of the American Council of Engineering Companies of New York, contends that "If fracking were approved in some form, it would create jobs for the engineering community."
But he emphasizes that "firms aren't losing work because there hasn't been anything there to start with—they just aren't getting the new work that would be created."
Kevin Molloy, vice president and oil-and-gas-sector manager of environmental consultant CDM Smith, agrees there are not a lot of firms working in the sector right now in New York because the acitivity has already moved elsewhere.
"This [decision] is one that was based on emotion and not necessarily science," he adds. "This is by no means a final decision."
He says that the resources will remain intact if the ban is ever lifted.