The Cuomo administration announced Wednesday that it would seek to make permanent New York’s statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing—hydrofracking—saying the technology and procedures involved in the controversial mining technique have not been proven safe and could pose a health risk to New Yorkers.
The administration’s new anti-fracking stance comes after years of back-and-forth on the subject. In 2011, The New York Times reported Cuomo was seeking to lift New York’s 2008 moratorium on fracking, but that never happened. In July of this year, Cuomo said he would make a decision on fracking before the 2014 election, which pitted him against Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who supported fracking and repeatedly hit the governor for not embracing it. Cuomo missed that deadline, too. In October, Capital New York reported that Cuomo’s administration had delayed and edited a report on fracking in New York to downplay the risks involved. Fracking opponents feared the worst.
But for local environmental groups, banning fracking late was taken as preferable to never. Heather Leibowitz, director of Environment New York, issued a statement lauding the governor’s decision on Wednesday.
“Across the country, fracking has been a rolling environmental disaster—contaminating drinking water, making residents sick, and transforming forests into industrial zones,” Leibowitz said. “After listening carefully to the latest science and the voices of millions of New Yorkers, Governor Cuomo has decided to permanently protect the water, health, and environment of the Empire State from the documented damage of dirty drilling. This is what true leadership looks like.”
Critics of the ban were just as quick to lash out at the announcement. Astorino—despite maintaining a ban on fracking byproducts in Westchester County—took the governor to task on Twitter following the decision.
The decision was made after the release of a New York Department of Health report titled “A Public Health Review of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing for Shale Gas Development.” Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker—a medical doctor—said the report found too many health-related “red flags” for fracking to be considered safe.
Hydraulic fracturing is the process of shooting highly pressurized mixtures of water, chemical cocktails, sand, and other materials into the earth to fracture subterranean rock formations in order to extract gas and oil. Proponents say a strong fracking sector is crucial for American energy independence. Opponents charge that health and environmental risks outweigh any economic benefits. With the new report’s findings, Zucker came down on the side of those opposed to the procedure.
“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,” said Zucker. “I therefore cannot recommend anyone else’s family to live in such a community either.”
Because the moratorium has prevented any fracking in New York for the past several years, the Cuomo Administration’s new stance will not directly impact any current operations—and therefore not reduce New York’s (and America’s) greenhouse gas emission levels. Fracking is still a booming industry in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Texas, and other parts of the country. But John Rumpler, a spokesperson for Environment America, said Cuomo’s decision was still important on a national level.
“From talking with people yesterday all across the country, this will have a significant effect on the debate in states all across the country,” Rumpler said. “This historical decision by Governor Cuomo is without question being heard as a warning shot against dirty drilling across the country.”
See where fracking is taking place across America below:
Orange: Oil and Gas Wells (generalized)
Purple: Shale Plays
â€‹Brown: Shale Basins
Map courtesy of FracTracker Alliance