By Charles Dunst
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has banned fracking in New York state after acting State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker stated that hydrofracking poses “significant public health risks.”
Zucker’s comment comes after the release of a six-year-long study by the Department of Environmental Conservation and New York State Health Department. New York is the second state in the nation to completely ban hydraulic fracturing, joining Vermont, which did so in 2012.
Hydraulic fracturing, better known as “hydrofracking,” has frequently been described by worldwide news as a negative force.
Hydrofracking has become a hot-button political issue, leading mayors, governors and presidential candidates to form and publicize their own opinions.
Hydrofracking is the vertical and horizontal drilling and injecting of water and chemicals deep underground in order to crack open shale rock, which contains huge deposits of oil and natural gas.
Hydrofracking has aided in supplying the U.S. with its largest oil reserves since 1975, exceeding 36 billion barrels.
Cuomo’s hydrofracking ban is a reversal of his previous stance, in which he named the practice as a possible economic stimulus and a way to reduce carbon emissions during the closing of old coal plants.
At an Albany news conference, Zucker stated that he would not want his family to live near a fracking site. Cuomo replied, “If you don’t believe your children should live there, then I agree your duty is to suggest that no child should live there.”
Gov. Cuomo’s authority to ban hydrofracking stems from the fact that in New York, like most states, energy companies must obtain certain state permits before they begin drilling, and the state is allowed to refuse these permits. Cuomo is refusing to approve hydrofracking permits, citing uncertainty over the practice’s health and environmental impacts.
New York sits atop the Marcellus Shale, a large source of oil and gas that stretches through Pennsylvania and all way to West Virginia.
As a result of this large source of oil, it is likely that a legal challenge to the ban will emerge. Columbia Law School professor Michael Gerrard addressed this possibility, saying, “Various procedural challenges might be raised to the New York decision, but while that is sorted out, few judges would order that drilling be allowed in the face of the state health department finding that the practice poses health risks to the neighbors.”
According to a U.S. News article, Executive Director of the New York State Petroleum Council, which is part of the American Petroleum Institute, Karen Moreau stated, “This is the wrong direction for New York.”
Moreau said, “Robust regulations exist at the federal and state levels nationwide for natural gas development and environmental protection. A politically motivated and equally misinformed ban on a proven technology used for over 60 years — throughout the country to great success — is short-sighted and reckless, particularly when New York depends on safely produced natural gas just over the border in Pennsylvania.”
According to a U.S. News article, Cuomo denied any political motivation behind his decision, but Executive Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University Steven Cohen stated that Cuomo’s political affiliation “is certainly not a coincidence.”
Cohen said New York has no economic interest because of the fracking moratorium, but Cuomo does not want the industry “to get a toehold.” Cohen stated, “In some respects, non-activity is easier than a change.”
This should not come as a surprise, as Cuomo’s economic policy has been to develop tourism and the high-tech industry, not to focus on resource extraction.
Cohen stated that the “advocacy against fracking has been very visible, very aggressive and targeted toward him (Gov. Cuomo). Politically, this lined up if he wanted to increase his political support.”
Regardless of the governor’s motives in banning hydrofracking, the ban has national importance, as it has the potential to lead other states to ban the practice, as well.