(Bloomberg) — The New York state Health Department said
fracking for natural gas can’t be done safely, dooming prospects
that Governor Andrew Cuomo will end a six-year moratorium.
Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said at a cabinet
meeting in Albany today that studies on the extraction
technique’s effects on water, air and soil are inconsistent,
incomplete and raise too many “red flags” to allow.
“I consider the people of the state of New York as my
patients,” said Zucker, a medical doctor. “We cannot afford to
make a mistake. The potential risks are too great. In fact, they
are not fully known.”
Parts of New York sit atop the gas-rich Marcellus shale
formation, and the governor has been trying to balance the
prospects for the economic development seen in Ohio and
Pennsylvania against environmentalists’ warnings that fracking
may taint water and make farmland unusable.
Fracking, in which water and chemicals are injected into
shale to free oil and gas, is allowed in at least 32 states.
California is working on an environmental review of the process,
and local communities across the U.S. are mobilizing to stop it.
In November, voters in Athens, Ohio; Denton, Texas; and
California’s Mendocino and San Benito counties passed measures
The ban in New York will harm the economy and deprive local
governments and the state of revenue, according to the American
Petroleum Institute’s New York State Petroleum Council.
“Today’s action by Governor Cuomo shows that New York
families, teachers, roads and good-paying jobs have lost out to
political gamesmanship,” said Karen Moreau, executive director
of the oil-and-gas trade group.
The state banned gas drilling by high-volume hydraulic
fracturing in July 2008 so regulators could conduct an
environmental review and develop rules. In September 2012, Cuomo
said he wouldn’t decide the issue until after health officials
Cuomo, a 57-year-old Democrat about to begin his second
term, said today he’ll let science, not politics, determine his
“I will be bound by what the experts say,” Cuomo said at
the cabinet meeting before Zucker spoke.
Since Governor David Paterson issued the New York
moratorium, the average natural-gas price on the New York
Mercantile Exchange has fallen 62 percent, declining to $3.70
per million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile
The potential for drilling in New York was already hobbled
by restrictions the state is planning should it move forward,
said Joe Martens, the commissioner of the Environmental
Conservation Department. The regulations, along with bans
imposed by towns and cities, cut out at least 63 percent of the
12 million acres where gas could be tapped by fracking, Martens
“The economic benefits are clearly far lower than
originally forecast,” Martens said. “The low price of gas only
In Pennsylvania, where fracking is permitted, more than
$630 million has been distributed to communities since 2012,
according to the New York State Petroleum Council’s statement.
The shale energy industry has generated $2.1 billion in state
and local tax revenue for Pennsylvania, the group said.
Federal regulations and state laws provide adequate
environmental protection, the group said.
In the six years since New York’s moratorium took effect,
many leases expired and companies left New York to drill in Ohio
and Pennsylvania, industry lawyers and lobbyists said.
“I don’t know of anybody who is shovel-ready waiting for
an announcement,” Thomas S. West, an Albany lawyer who said he
represents several companies with New York leases as clients,
said in an interview before the announcement.
The health department spent more than 4,500 hours on its
analysis, reviewing academic studies, consulting experts and
meeting with health officials in other states, Zucker said. The
studies and data showed many potential health risks, including
groundwater contamination in Wyoming and increased traffic
deaths in areas of Pennsylvania.
The report “concludes that it will be years until science
and research provide sufficient information to determine the
level of risk HVHF poses to public health and whether those
risks can be adequately mitigated,” the Health Department said
in a statement released after the decision. HVHF is an
abbreviation for high-volume hydraulic fracturing.
Environmental groups cheered the move, saying Cuomo
demonstrated “courage” and “national leadership.’
‘‘Mounting scientific evidence points to serious health
risks from fracking operations,’’ Kate Sinding of the Natural
Resources Defense Council said in a statement. ‘‘New Yorkers
have made it loud and clear that we want to keep this reckless
industry at bay. With this announcement, the governor has
(An earlier version of this story was corrected to change
National to Natural in the final paragraph.)
To contact the reporters on this story:
Freeman Klopott in Albany at
Martin Z. Braun in New York at
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Stephen Merelman at