The state of New York will ban hydraulic fracturing gas mining operations, following a public health review that found the wells may put state residents at risk.
The New York ban on the controversial gas mining process, often referred to as fracking, was recommended on Wednesday by New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens and Department of Health (DOH) Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. The ban goes into effect early next year to prohibit high-volume hydraulic fracturing.
Fracking involves the injection of a mixture of water, sand and fluids, which the gas industry has fought to keep secret, into the ground at extremely high pressure, cracking shale deposits and freeing trapped natural gas, which can then be removed. Those fluids are then sucked from the ground and often disposed of in wastewater wells.
The controversial process has come under increasing scrutiny over the last several years, as it has become an increasingly popular method of gas extraction with the development of new drilling techniques and the discovery of large shale reserves.
Critics have linked fracking to a variety of pollutants, claiming it puts groundwater sources at risk and that increased truck traffic, air pollution and other problems can reduce property values and sicken nearby residents.
“I have considered all of the data and find significant questions and risks to public health which as of yet are unanswered,” Zucker said, announcing his recommendations at a New York cabinet meeting. “I think it would be reckless to proceed in New York until more authoritative research is done. I asked myself, ‘would I let my family live in a community with fracking?’ The answer is no. I therefore cannot recommend anyone else’s family to live in such a community either.”
The decision came following the release of a six year study into the process, known as a Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) which resulted in a public health review of high volume hydraulic fracturing for shale gas development (PDF) released on December 17. The report noted that the science on fracking environmental impacts is underdeveloped, but linked the process to increased risk of:
- Air pollution that can affect respiratory health
- Climate change impacts due to the release of methane and other chemicals
- Contamination of underground drinking water sources due to methane migration and faulty well construction
- Chemical spills that could lead to soil and surface water contamination
- Community and economic impacts such as increased traffic, road damage, noise, odor and other problems
Martens said that the findings indicate dozens of significant potential adverse impacts, and found that the risks of high-volume hydraulic fracturing outweigh any potential economic benefits.
“Considering the research, public comments, relevant studies, Dr. Zucker’s report and the enormous record DEC has amassed on this issue, I have directed my staff to complete the final SGEIS,” Martens said. “Once that is complete, I will prohibit high-volume hydraulic fracturing in New York State at this time.”
Fracking Environmental, Health Concerns Mount
Environmentalists, a number of lawmakers, local communities and consumer advocacy groups have expressed concerns for years that hydrofracking presents a threat to groundwater supplies and the environment.
Earlier this year a Texas jury awarded $2.9 million in damages to a family who sued a hydraulic fracturing company for being a public nuisance. According to allegations raised in a fracking lawsuit filed by the Parr family, nearly two dozen wells near their property caused a private nuisance, exposing them to toxic chemicals that damaged their health and lowered property value.
Recently, a number of studies have shown that there may be a link between fracking and earthquakes, suggesting that the intense pressure from the unidentified fluids can cause ground tremors violent enough to damage property and cause injuries and possibly deaths.