Citing Health Concerns, New York State Bans Fracking
New York state’s environmental commissioner announced on Wednesday that he will ban hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, due to health concerns associated with the controversial fossil fuel extraction technique.
The decision came following the release of a long-awaited state health department report which acknowledged “adverse health outcomes” resulting from fracking and listed other dangers associated with it, including negative air and climate change impacts, drinking and surface water contamination, stress on communities and even earthquakes.
Reuters reports New York Environmental Commissioner Joseph Martens told Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s cabinet that he will issue an order early in 2015 prohibiting fracking, which has been temporarily banned statewide under a 2008 moratorium. New York will join Vermont as the only states to have completely outlawed the practice.
Syracuse.com reports Martens’ announcement followed a detailed presentation by Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, who said that he would not allow his family to drink tap water in areas where fracking is occurring.
Zucker cited studies concluding fracking is harmful to human and environmental health, adding that there have been insufficient long-term studies demonstrating the technique’s effects over time.
“We don’t have the evidence to prove or disprove the health effects,” said Zucker. “But the cumulative concerns of what I’ve read gives me reason to pause.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said early during the cabinet meeting that he would defer to Martens and Zucker.
“I will be bound by what these experts say because I am not in a position to second guess them with my expertise,” Cuomo said. “I am not a scientist.”
Environmental groups hailed the news of the impending ban.
“We’re elated,” Alex Beauchamp, northeast regional director at Food and Water Watch, told CBS New York. “Finally Governor Cuomo has listened to the overwhelming evidence from the scientific community and the public health community and protected all New Yorkers by banning fracking across the state.”
“We hope that this determined leadership Governor Cuomo has displayed will give courage to elected leaders throughout the country and world,” Deborah Goldberg, an attorney with the group Earthjustice, told Reuters.
But the fossil fuel industry blasted the ban, with New York State Petroleum Council executive director Karen Moreau calling the move “a tragedy” and detrimental to the area’s struggling economy. Moreau said New York is being deprived of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.
“We are resolved to continue to fight for these benefits in New York,” she said.
Upstate dairy farmer Neil Vitale told the Wall Street Journal that he wanted to lease some of his land to energy corporations to help pay his property tax.
“The amount of shale available is more valuable than the surface of the land will ever be,” Vitale said. “The state controls the most valuable part of our farm.”
Fracking involves injecting massive amounts of water, sand and toxic chemicals into a well to fracture bedrock to extract oil or natural gas. New York state sits atop a large northern portion of the Marcellus shale, one of the nation’s largest natural gas deposits.
Cuomo had initially supported fracking as a means of improving the economy in depressed upstate rural areas near the Pennsylvania border, across which fracking thrives. But the governor has since changed his viewpoint.
“I’ve never had anyone say to me, ‘I believe fracking is great,’ ” Cuomo toldthe New York Times. “Not a single person in those communities. What I get is, ‘I have no alternative but fracking.’ ”
Opponents of fracking list many negative impacts of the technique, including:
-Each gas well requires an average of 400 tanker trucks to carry water and supplies to and from the site, with each fracking job consuming one to eight million gallons of water.
-On-site, the water is mixed with sand and chemicals to create fracking fluid. Approximately 40,000 gallons of chemicals are used in each frack. There are more than 600 chemicals used in the process, including known carcinogens and toxins like lead, uranium, mercury, ethylene glycol, radium, methanol, hydrochloric acid and formaldehyde.
-During fracking, methane gas and toxic chemicals leach into nearby groundwater, resulting in methane levels 17 times higher in drinking water wells near fracking sites than those in normal wells.
-More than 1,000 documented cases of water contamination in drilling-adjacent areas have been reported, as well as cases of sensory, respiratory, and neurological damage due to ingested contaminated water.
-Only 30-50 percent of the fracking fluid is recovered. The rest of the non-biodegradable toxic chemicals remain in the ground. Waste fluid left in open pits to evaporate release harmful volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere, contaminating air and causing acid rain and ground level ozone.