ALBANY, NY — A press release with the headline, “Commissioner Joseph Martens Rejects Call For ‘Independent’ Health Study of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing,” from the commissioner of the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced that “NYS Health Commissioner Nirav Shah has agreed to assess the department's health impact analysis,” regarding gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing, garnering advice from the most qualified “outside experts.”
In the release, Martens acknowledged that environmental groups were calling for an outside group to conduct a health survey. He said he rejected that demand because it would be “an inappropriate delegation of a governmental responsibility.” He also said the new rules regarding fracking would not be released until the health review was completed.
Environmentalists and health experts have long been calling for an in-depth health analysis of fracking, and while this is not what they had in mind, some of them have the view that it might be a positive step.
Riverkeeper, a member-supported watchdog organization dedicated to defending the Hudson River and its tributaries, responded to the announcement with a press release of their own which said, in part, “We are confident that Commissioner Shah’s review, if done comprehensively, objectively and with the help of truly qualified outside experts, will reveal significant omissions in DEC’s analysis and show why fracking cannot be allowed to move forward in New York.
“Riverkeeper urges the state to fearlessly pursue the best science, not just the best way to prepare for litigation, and to include the public, and in particular communities at risk, in its review and decision-making process when it comes to fracking and health.”
The reference to litigation is a response to a sentence from Marten, which said, “I believe it is highly likely that some of these groups will pursue litigation following the conclusion of the departmental process if they do not agree with the outcome.”
But, while Riverkeeper seems prepared to take a wait and see attitude to the announcement, which was released on September 20, other groups do not trust the DEC to do the right thing when it comes to fracking.
Bruce Ferguson of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy said, “It's hard to have confidence in a health study that will be overseen by the Cuomo Administration and the DEC. Governor Cuomo continues to rely on a Division of Mineral Resources Director [Bradley J. Field] who doesn't believe that greenhouse gas emissions pose a threat and the department has produced an environmental impact study that ignores peer-reviewed science and cites outdated and false information downloaded from gas company websites.
“If the Cuomo DEC is unwilling to protect our environment, why should we trust them to protect our health? New Yorkers need, and deserve, an independent health impact analysis.”
On the other side of the issue, the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York (JCLNY,) which represents 77,000 pro-drilling landowners, applauded the DEC move and labeled the call for an independent review a “delaying tactic.”
Dan Fitzsimmons, president of the JLCNY, said, “This position renews our faith that the long stated intentions of the Governor to lead based on the facts will prevail even while biased groups recycle myths and distortions about natural gas development. The State has the expertise to properly regulate this industry. These outright hostile attacks by special interest groups must be refused and the final guidelines issued, demonstrating that New York is open for business.”