After a four-year-long regulatory review, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced on Thursday that it would delay its decision on whether to permit hydraulic fracturing until New York’s health commissioner and “qualified outside experts” assess the practice’s health impacts, the Associated Press reported.
The surprise announcement comes after months of private discussions between the state and environmental groups, which have pushed for Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) and the DEC to take a “broader look” at the health impacts of hydrofracking — a controversial practice which involves injecting water and chemicals at high velocity into the ground to extract natural gas — according to Gannett News Service.
Cuomo has said that he will decide whether to allow hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” only after the DEC completes the review it began in 2008. The Sun reported on September 11 that Cuomo will not pressure the agency to complete its review by a specific date, as he expects litigation from both pro- and anti-fracking groups to further delay the process no matter what he decides.
DEC Commissioner Joe Martens on Thursday also cited the likely litigation as one reason for the decision, saying that the study on fracking’s health impacts would better protect the state from the lawsuits.
"I believe it is highly likely that some of these groups will pursue litigation following the conclusion of the departmental process if they do not agree with the outcome," Martens said in a prepared statement, according to the AP. The review "will ensure the strongest possible legal position for the Department given the near certainty of litigation," he said.
Martens also rejected calls from health and environmental groups for the analysis to be conducted by an independent group, such as a university school of public health. Instead, Martens has asked New York Health Commissioner Nirav Shah to assess the DEC’s own health impact analysis.
"I have also asked Dr. Shah to identify the most qualified outside experts to advise him in his review," Martens said. "While the review will be informed by outside perspectives on the science of hydrofracking, the decision-making will remain a governmental responsibility."
"I have also asked Dr. Shah to identify the most qualified outside experts to advise him in his review," Martens said in a prepared statement. "While the review will be informed by outside perspectives on the science of hydrofracking, the decision-making will remain a governmental responsibility."