ALBANY, NY — The three health experts who have been tasked with reviewing the state’s assessment of the health impacts of hydraulic fracturing have been asked to complete the review soon. That’s according to Lynn Goldman, dean of George Washington University’s School of Public Health. Goldman told several news organizations that the review completion date is December 3, but her agreement with the state runs through mid-February 2013.
Ramsay Adams, executive director of Catskill Mountainkeeper, said the December 3 date is not necessarily hard and fast, and the three experts are not being used as “proxies” by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to set a deadline for the process.
Governor Andrew Cuomo signaled last week in two radio interviews (listen to one here) that he does not have a timeline in mind for the completion of the review. He did say, however, that the adoption of the new rules regarding hydraulic fracturing would not occur before the November 29 deadline, which will mark one year since the last public hearing on the proposed rules. With the missed deadline, according to a statement from the DEC, the agency now will file for a 90-day extension, and it is not clear exactly how the process play out, but it may include another round of public comment.
The other two experts who are participating in the review are John Adgate, chairman of the Environmental and Occupational Health Department at the Colorado School of Public Health, and Richard Jackson, chairman of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
The two sides in the fracking debate have been divided on the question of whether a health impact assessment is necessary, and whether these three experts will be objective in their analysis.
Environmental groups have been enthusiastic about the qualifications of the three experts, but still have questions about the process. Mountainkeeper notes that the experts “will only be looking at the documentation that has been previously been prepared by the DEC,” and that members of the public have not been allowed to see the information that is being reviewed.
On the other side of the issue, after four years of the rule making process, some pro-drilling forces are calling this review a delaying tactic. In fact, Cuomo’s recent actions and statements regarding fracking in general have prompted speculation that Cuomo’s appetite for drilling in the state may be waning. JD Krohn, the communications director for Energy In Depth, wrote, “The past few weeks have left many in New York wondering if Gov. Andrew Cuomo actually wants to see responsible Marcellus development move forward in his state.
Unfortunately, if the comments he made on Tuesday’s edition of the Fred Dicker show are any indication, it’d be tough to conclude that he genuinely does.”
New regulation for water withdrawals
In a related development, the DEC has finalized regulations regarding the withdrawal of large amounts of water from water bodies and aquifers.
According to a press release from the DEC, “The regulations limit water withdrawals greater than 100,000 gallons per day and expand the water withdrawal permitting program to include withdrawals for purposes beyond public water supply, such as those for commercial, manufacturing and industrial activities.” This could include water to be used in fracking operations.
“Governor Cuomo signed this legislation to foster responsible conservation practices and economic growth while protecting water bodies and wildlife habitats,” DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said. “The regulations will allow the state to protect the environment while promoting economic growth and addressing droughts.”