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December 27, 2014
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Health study outlined in fracking moratorium; Proposed senate legislation also highlights health


ALBANY, NY — The two-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing that was passed by the New York State Assembly on March 7 calls for a health study of the process to be undertaken by a school of public health within the State University of New York following a model recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

A press release from assembly speaker Sheldon Silver said the purpose of the study is to identify the risks associated with horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing, and to develop a long-term plan for monitoring, evaluating, tracking and mitigating potential public health impacts.

The bill passed by a roll call vote of 95 to 40. Similar bills, however, have passed in the House before, and then died in the Senate. This year, however, may be different because a member of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which shares control of the Senate with Republicans, has introduced legislation that would impose a moratorium and also involves health impacts.

The bill introduced by Senator David Carlucci requires that the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) “shall not proceed to finalize and publish the revised Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) prior to … the completion” of two current health studies, one being conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the other by the Geisinger Health System. Both studies are, at least, a couple of years from completion. The bill, which was endorsed by eight environmental groups, requires the New York State Commissioner of Health to take the independent studies into consideration in formulating his heath impact assessment.

The future of the bill, however, is far from certain. At lease one senator, whose district is located in the southern tier in the heart of the New York Marcellus Shale territory, is vowing to block the bill. Senator Thomas Libous said that he would work to ensure that it never reaches the floor for a vote.

In the meantime, at least one columnist speculated that Governor Andrew Cuomo had a hand in the proposed Senate legislation. New York Post columnist Fredric Dicker wrote, “Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the Senate claimed Cuomo helped members of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) draft a surprise proposal to delay fracking for at least two more years.” He added that Cuomo aides had “strongly denied” the allegation.

In a related development, everyone involved in the process, from Cuomo to Libous, is repeating the mantra that has been offered throughout the five-year SGEIS process, that science, not politics should dictate the outcome. Now, an entire issue of New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy is devoted to peer-reviewed articles on various aspects of fracking.

The issue contains 13 articles that cover various topics including the impacts on health, the impact on the dairy industry in Pennsylvania, and financial impacts, with an article from by Jannette Barth, Ph.D, an economist with a home in Delaware County, NY.