Energy & Environment

New York joins Vermont in fracking ban

Vermont’s neighbor to the west has banned hydraulic fracturing, a controversial oil and gas drilling technique also known as fracking, because of health concerns.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration announced the ban on Wednesday. The state’s top health official said in a news release it would be “reckless” to proceed without conducting more research on the extraction process.

“I have considered all of the data and find significant questions and risks to public health which as of yet are unanswered,” said Acting Commissioner of Health Howard Zucker. “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 department published a report on Wednesday that concluded there is insufficient scientific evidence to confirm the drilling practice is safe.

Hydraulic fracturing involves the high-pressure injection of chemical-laden water to release natural gas and oil from rock formations. Environmentalists warn the process can cause earthquakes, water contamination and methane leaks, among other concerns. But proponents of the process say it has unlocked enough new gas reserves to last for decades and boosted domestic oil and gas production, creating jobs and offsetting foreign oil imports.

Vermont was the first state in the nation to ban the process. The American Petroleum Institute opposed the ban. There were no drilling or any permits to do so in Vermont at the time.

New York, however, sits atop the Marcellus Shale, a major source of natural gas that has been a target for extraction development in the northeast. For six years, the state has imposed a de facto moratorium on the drilling practice.

Paul Burns, executive director of VPIRG, holds up a photo of a fracking operation. VTDigger staff photo.

Paul Burns, executive director of VPIRG, holds up a photo of a fracking operation. VTDigger staff photo.

New York’s decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was celebrated by environmental groups, including one that lobbied for the Vermont ban.

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“Fracking for gas is a climate and environmental nightmare,” said Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, in a statement on Thursday. “The Cuomo administration’s move today just proves that Vermonters got it right in outlawing the dirty and dangerous practice 31 months ago.”

The Business Council of New York State, a trade group representing over 2,400 companies, including the computer chip maker IBM, condemned the the administration’s decision.

“The Business Council of New York State, Inc., is troubled that today New York embraces half-truths and fear while ignoring the economic and environmental benefits being experienced across the United States resulting from expanded domestic natural gas production. The Marcellus Shale is one of the nation’s richest shale deposits. This is a disappointing day for the people of the Southern Tier, and for the people of New York. The impact of this missed opportunity will be long-lasting,” said Heather C. Briccetti, president and CEO of the trade group, in a statement on Thursday.

Zucker said in the report that “absolute scientific certainty” about the health impacts of hydraulic fracturing is “unlikely to ever be attained.” He said until science provides sufficient information to determine the level of risk to public health from hydraulic fracturing to all New Yorkers and whether the risks can be adequately managed, his department recommends the process should be banned in New York.

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John Herrick

About John

John Herrick joined VTDigger in June 2013 as an intern working on the searchable campaign finance database and is now VTDigger's energy and environment reporter. He graduated from the University of Vermont with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in Spanish. He wrote for the Vermont Cynic, university’s student newspaper, before interning and later freelancing for the Burlington Free Press.

Email: [email protected]

Follow John on Twitter @herrickjohnny

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