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Source: Press & Sun-Bulletin

Cuomo: No timetable on Health Department fracking review


Posted: September 25, 2012
Originally Published: September 24, 2012

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo declined Monday to put a timetable on a newly added layer of New York’s ongoing review of hydraulic fracturing, but said the additional assessment could help protect the state from lawsuits.

The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation last week announced the Department of Health will review its findings regarding high-volume hydrofracking before determining whether it can move forward in New York. The move is expected to add time to the DEC’s overarching study of the gas-extraction process, which has stretched on for more than four years.

Cuomo has repeatedly said an ultimate decision on hydrofracking to be made based on science and facts. Placing a timetable on the DEC would run counter to that pledge, he said.

“To say, ‘Well, I want an answer by next week.’ Well then, what happened to science and what happened to facts?” Cuomo told reporters. “Then it’s a political timetable imposed on what we said was an informational, scientific process.”

“It’s done when it’s done,” he said.

The first-term Democrat praised the DEC’s recent announcement, which revealed that Health Commissioner Nirav Shah will review the state’s ultimate findings with advice from outside experts. Environmental and medical groups had called for an outside, nongovernmental group to conduct a comprehensive health study before a decision on hydrofracking is made.

Cuomo said the DEC was taking an “intelligent approach” and is working diligently to make sure it is not susceptible to a lengthy legal challenge.

“Yes, we’ll avail ourselves to advice and opinions from outside experts, but it’s up to government,” he said.

Reaction to the partnership between the DEC and the Health Department has been mixed. Bill Cooke, director of government relations for Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said if the Health Department’s assessment is done "honestly,” it should focus on the cumulative impacts of gas wells and continue “into next summer.”

“We welcome any prudent use of time,” Cooke said. “At the end of the day, this is the biggest environmental issue in 100 years and it has the potential to affect the individual health and financial well-being of every property owner in a huge area, so taking their time is a smart move.”

The DEC first launched its review of high-volume hydrofracking in July 2008, and the technique has remained on hold in New York ever since. It involves the use of large quantities of water, sand and chemicals injected deep underground to fracture shale formations, such as New York’s Marcellus Shale, and release natural gas.

James Smith, a spokesman for the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York, said the trade group has confidence in state officials to carry out a fair process, but ultimately it will be up to individual gas companies to decide whether they can do business in the state.

“We take the governor and the (DEC) commissioner at their word,” Smith said. “When the (environmental review) is finalized, it will be based on the science and based on the realities, not the fears that have been advanced by some opponents.”

Cuomo said he hasn’t received any indication from the DEC as to how long the agency expects the added layer of review to take.

“I don’t think they know at this time,” Cuomo said. “The DEC is using the Department of Health to identify some outside experts to do the review, and I’m sure when they have an estimate, they’ll tell us.”