Governor Announces “Restarting” the Regulatory Process on Fracking

What’s Behind The Headlines?

This week Governor Cuomo announced that the state is “restarting” the regulatory process that would create the rules under which high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) could proceed.  When asked why the state would be doing more work and undertaking a health impact review, he answered that “it will be a stronger review to withstand a legal challenge.”

Contrary to indications last week that he was likely to back away from fracking, the Governor strongly stated this week, “there is no step back.”

It’s unfortunate that the Governor has framed the need for a health review as a legal defense issue rather than as a critical element necessary to protect the public health.  None-the-less, now is the time for Governor Cuomo to demonstrate he has a high level of concern for the public’s health by elevating his current plan for an internal health review to hiring an independent entity to lead a comprehensive and rigorous Health Impact Assessment (HIA).  An HIA distinguishes itself from other kinds of public health investigations by using quantitative, qualitative and participatory techniques (learn more), and is the only process that will give the Governor the facts and data necessary to make science based decisions about fracking, his own frequently quoted fracking policy goal.

In an interview today on North Country Public Radio, Dr. David Carpenter, former employee of the state health department in the 1980s and Director of The Institute for Health and the Environment at SUNY’s School of Public Health said that while the agency has many competent health experts, working for a government that also has an agenda may compromise the work.   

“The Health Department is a political body, it reports to the governor,” said Carpenter. “It is not independent.”

He said that when they wanted to study radon in homes while he directed the Health Department’s laboratories during the Carey Administration they couldn’t do it because the Governor was promoting insulation for energy efficiency.  “We were not allowed to study what’s clearly a health hazard.”

Carpenter worries that with all the pressures from the gas drilling industry to allow fracking, as well as the state’s need for economic development, it might be hard for the Governor’s health department to remain objective.

The decision to “restart” the regulatory process is also an excellent opportunity to not only study the health impacts of fracking but also to study other critical elements that are missing from the current draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement before it becomes final. These include:

  • The cumulative impact of multiple wells within specific areas.  Currently the DEC has only looked at the impact on health and the environment of individual wells.
  • What is really going on in Pennsylvania and other states where fracking has been implemented. The frequent reports from the fracking fields are almost universally cautionary tales of serious health impacts, contamination of the water supply and air quality, as well as damage to the physical and social infrastructure.   if we commit ourselves to penetrating the obfuscation created by the non-disclosure agreements that the gas industry has imposed on individuals who have experienced problems, there is a lot to learn.

It is essential that all of us who have been working on this issue do not confuse the current move to study health impacts with progress or enlightenment by the Governor. Governor Cuomo has clearly stated that he is moving ahead with fracking and that the current delay is necessary to protect the state from what he expects will be a series of legal challenges. Catskill Mountainkeeper and others have been saying all along that the decision to frack in New York is a cold calculated risk assessment of how much damage will be done versus how much revenue can be collected for the state.  This is an effort to tilt those odds further.



Why New York Needs a Comprehensive Health Impact Assessment of Fracking

On Thursday September 20, Joseph Martens, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced that the DEC will do a review of the potential public health effects of fracking. He said, “only after this evaluation is completed will a decision be made about whether to permit high-volume hydraulic fracturing in New York…obviously, if there was a public health concern that could not be addressed, we would not proceed.”

Commissioner Marten’s response to the widespread concerns voiced by Catskill Mountainkeeper, medical professionals, concerned organizations and citizens is a welcome development in the regulatory process. However, his proposed “review of the potential public health effects of fracking” unfortunately falls far short of what is needed – which is a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment (HIA).

An HIA is the gold standard used to study health impact. The process insures that the best available science, and all relevant perspectives are brought to bear on the analysis.  It distinguishes itself from other kinds of public health investigations by being done in advance of any decision to approve or prohibit a proposed activity. It allows for public participation in scoping, hearings, reviews, meetings, and stakeholder consultations, especially with members of targeted communities. The health impact review proposed by Commissioner Martens is NOT an HIA.

In addition the HIA process would:

  • Identify the potential effects of shale gas extraction on the health of the people of New York State and describe what its effects will be on our citizens.  With 19.5 million people, New York is the third most populous state.  Even small increases in the incidence of chronic health problems could potentially impact thousands of people and create ruinous health care costs.
  • Consult independent experts from multiple disciplines to evaluate the complex hazards and exposures created by shale gas extraction.
  • Have special emphasis on vulnerable subpopulations including infants, children, pregnant women and the elderly.  For example, an HIA could examine the associated air pollution impacts on birth weight, childhood asthma, heart attack and stroke.
  • Analyze not only the causes of illness but also the conditions that affect health, which include personal behaviors, social and economic factors, the built environment, and the physical environment.
  • Consider the health risks from cumulative impacts and throughout the entire life cycle of shale gas extraction and transport including radon exposure from pipelines, radon in homes and apartments, exposures to lead and toxic chemicals and the potential for exposure to toxins from drilling wastes.
  • Examine occupational health risks to workers.
  • Recommend actions to minimize or eliminate the health effects that it identifies.

Please send an email using our easy to use form to Governor Cuomo and Commissioner Martens to thank them for agreeing that unless all public health concerns could be addressed, high-volume hydraulic fracturing would not proceed in New York and tell them that the only form of health review that will meet the high standards required is a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment (HIA). Our message to the Governor and the Commissioner is that to do any less would be an abdication of the state’s responsibility to protect the public’s health.


EU fracking study reports drilling for shale gas poses high risks, worse than those posed by other fossil fuels

Novinite (Bulgaria’s largest English news outlet), September 7, 2012

A new report for the European Union warns that tough new regulations are required for the shale gas industry because of the high risk it poses to human health and the environment.

The EC study, ‘Impacts of shale gas and shale oil extraction on the environment and human health’, the most comprehensive analysis yet of the shale gas sector, says that drilling for shale gas poses “high risks”, worse than those posed by other fossil fuels, EEM reported.

Amongst these is water contamination caused by the hydraulic fracturing of rocks to obtain the gas, known as ‘fracking‘. The report warns that no fracking should be allowed in areas where water is being used to drinking purposes.

Seven other risks are highlighted, including contamination and depletion of ground and surface water, degradation of biodiversity, land, air quality and the danger of earthquakes.  For full article, click here…..

Sean Lennon Speaks Out Against Fracking

New York Times, August 28, 2012

Op Ed Article by Sean Lennon

On the northern tip of Delaware County, N.Y., where the Catskill Mountains curl up into little kitten hills, and Ouleout Creek slithers north into the Susquehanna River, there is a farm my parents bought before I was born. My earliest memories there are of skipping stones with my father and drinking unpasteurized milk. There are bald eagles and majestic pines, honeybees and raspberries. My mother even planted a ring of white birch trees around the property for protection.

A few months ago I was asked by a neighbor near our farm to attend a town meeting at the local high school. Some gas companies at the meeting were trying very hard to sell us on a plan to tear through our wilderness and make room for a new pipeline: infrastructure for hydraulic fracturing. Most of the residents at the meeting, many of them organic farmers, were openly defiant. The gas companies didn’t seem to care. They gave us the feeling that whether we liked it or not, they were going to fracture our little town.   For the full article, click here….

Mountainkeeper Ag Coordinator Emily Deans on WIOX Radio’s “The Farm Hour”





ON this evening Farm Hour on WIOX we will be hearing from Catskill Mountainkeeper Agriculture Coordinator EMILY DEANS.  Emily was in Albany last week  at the American Farmland Trust No Farms No Food Rally  and she will be calling in to tell us about her day at the Capital.


And later in the hour, Farmer Wes Hannah, organizer for the National Young Farmers Coalition will be calling in to talk about the future of farming.  NYFC published a comprehensive report about the obstacles facing young beginning farmers and creative solutions for the future, download at Building a Future With Farmers: Challenges Faced by Young, American Farmers and a National Strategy to Help

Mountainkeeper Board Member Michelle Williams Voices Radio Ad

July 23, 2012 4:05 PM

Michelle Williams Voices Anti-Hydrofracking Ad

BY Celeste Katz

Michelle Williams, who parlayed a role on the ’90′s hit show “Dawson’s Creek” into a film career that’s ranged from turns in “Brokeback Mountain” to “My Week With Marilyn,” is the voice of a new anti-hydrofracking radio campaign in New York’s Southern Tier.

michelle williams.jpgThe spot, which debuted today in the Binghamton market, is financed by NY SAFE and Catskill Mountainkeeper. The fracking debate is heating up amid reports that the Cuomo administration is considering allowing limited gas drilling.

Arguing that hydrofracking presents a serious danger to water supplies, Williams — who is working with “Gasland” filmmaker Josh Fox and many other activists on the project — says, “In New York State, we’ve been good stewards of the land. Our water resources are in great shape, and we need them to stay that way — forever. As a mother, I want to pass on a beautiful and healthy New York to my daughter, and to the next generation.”

Said Fox, whose video “The Sky Is Pink” focuses on the fracking debate here in New York, “As the risks of contamination from fracking continue to come to light, more and more New Yorkers are saying it’s just not worth it. The science is clear — it’s not a question of whether our drinking water could be polluted, it’s a question of when. Six percent of these wells fail as soon as they’re drilled, so toxins can seep out immediately. And with the potential for tens of thousands of wells in New York, six percent is a lot of failure. I just don’t think Gov. Cuomo wants that on his record — I think he will make the better choice.”
Click here for the entire article

Highland becomes 4th Sullivan town to ban fracking

7/12/12, Times Herald-Record
Steve Israel

ELDRED — Add another Sullivan County town to those that have banned gas drilling. The Town of Highland on Tuesday became the fourth town in the county to ban high impact industrial uses such as the horizontal natural gas extraction method of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Its Town Board voted 5-0 for a such a ban.

Highland, which borders the Delaware River, joined its neighbors to the north, Tusten and Bethel, and its southern neighbor, Lumberland, to change its zoning for the ban. The votes were unanimous in all four towns.

The Highland move is significant because it comes before the state finally decides whether fracking can proceed, and what the regulations would be if it’s allowed.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Department of Environmental Commissioner Joe Martens have repeatedly said that a town’s position on fracking will matter when — or if — the state determines where drilling permits will be issued.  Read more……