Cuomo delays decision on hydraulic fracturing in state

State Sen. Tony Avella (c.) questions the independence of a geologist chosen to review the potential seismic impacts of hydraulic fracturing. Photo courtesy Tony Avella
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration will delay making a decision on whether to allow hydrofracking in the state, with the state Health Department announcing it needs more time to complete a public health analysis.

The announcement means regulations being drafted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation will not be finalized by a critical deadline this month as it waits for the health impact analysis to be completed and the rule-making process will begin anew.

DOH Commissioner Nirav Shah said in a letter to DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens Tuesday that it was important to complete a review of potential health impacts of high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing before it would be allowed in the state.

Hydraulic fracturing is the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock by blasting a mix of water and chemicals underground.

“From the inception of this process, the governor’s instruction has been to let the science determine the outcome,” Shah wrote. “As a physician and scientist, I could not agree more. Whatever the ultimate decision on HVHF going ahead, New Yorkers can be assured that it will be pursuant to a rigorous review that takes the time to examine the relevant health issues.”

Meanwhile, a Queens state senator is calling into question the independence of an expert chosen to review the potential impacts of fracking.

Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said he was alarmed at reports that the expert, Robert Jacobi, who the DEC brought in to review the seismic impact of hydraulic fracturing, has ties to gas drilling companies.

“Unfortunat­ely, nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to the state’s review of hydrofrack­ing,” Avella said.

Jacobi, a geologist and University of Buffalo professor, also consults for EQT Corp., a Pittsburgh-based natural gas drilling company and the University of Buffalo said he has been a consultant for the gas industry for some time.

There has been a moratorium on high-volume horizontal hydrofracking in the state since 2008, as the state has been drafting regulations and conducting an environmental review of the drilling process and the Health Department has been conducting its health impact analysis of DEC’s review.

Some environmental groups are concerned that the seismic impact caused by fracking could damage aging aqueducts that carry drinking water from watersheds upstate to the city. Katherine Hudson, a spokeswoman with Riverkeeper, a watchdog organization devoted to protecting the city’s drinking water, said if the aqueducts were to crack, that could potentially allow contaminants into the water supply or threaten the ability of the aqueducts to carry water to the city.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Posted 12:52 am, February 15, 2013
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