New York Bans Hydraulic Fracturing

On December 17, 2014, the Acting Commissioner of Health for the New York State Department of Health issued a report recommending that High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (HVHF) not be permitted in New York due to “significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes that may be associated with HVHF, the likelihood of the occurrence of adverse health outcomes, and the effectiveness of some of the mitigation measures in reducing or preventing environmental impacts which could adversely affect public health.” After reviewing the report, Governor Cuomo announced that New York would ban fracking. 

The report entitled “A Public Health Review of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing for Shale Gas Development” includes the following major findings:

  • Air impacts that could affect respiratory health due to increased levels of particulate matter, diesel exhaust, or volatile organic chemicals.
  • Climate change impacts due to methane and other volatile organic chemical releases to the atmosphere.
  • Drinking water impacts from underground migration of methane and/or fracking chemicals associated with faulty well construction.
  • Surface spills potentially resulting in soil and water contamination.
  • Surface-water contamination resulting from inadequate wastewater treatment.
  • Earthquakes induced during fracturing.
  • Community impacts associated with boom-town economic effects such as increased vehicle traffic, road damage, noise, odor complaints, increased demand for housing and medical care, and stress.

While Democratic legislators and environmental organizations applauded the decision, the Republican co-leader of the state senate, Dean Skelos, criticized the ban as a political move, rather than a decision based on science. “The decision implies that at least 30 other states, Senator Schumer and the Obama Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency are wrong about the health impacts and do not care about the well-being of millions of American citizens.”

In an on-line article published in Forbes on December 27, 2014, James Conca noted that the ban seems contrary to New York’s energy future:

The ban was a huge political success for the Governor and for those opposed to fracking. But it’s a reversal of Cuomo’s previous stance in which he embraced fracking as an economic stimulus and a way to reduce carbon emissions when closing old coal plants. … So instead of banning fracking, why didn’t New York just enact really strong, and financially punitive, regulations? Most likely because the New York State Legislature lacked the nerve to enact strong measures, and the Governor felt the need to act quickly.

Mr. Conca noted that Pennsylvania has implemented a regulatory program addressing hydraulic fracturing that has reduced environmental impacts from fracking. He also noted that Ohio has enacted new regulations which some say must be substantially strengthened.

On the other hand, in an on-line article published on December 30, 2014 in the San Diego Free Press (which includes the descriptive label “Grassroots News & Progressive Views” beneath the banner), John Lawrence explains that liberal entertainers helped Governor Cuomo to see the light: “None other than Yoko Ono and her son Sean Lennon, son of Beatles’ legend John Lennon, called for Governor Cuomo to ban fracking. It seems like high powered celebrities may have been listened to in high places where the hoi polloi had little success. Their group Artists against Fracking included such notables as Lady Gaga, Jimmy Fallon, Paul McCartney and Alec Baldwin, all of whom added their voices and names to the group along with some 200 others.”

Mr. Lawrence concludes his article by imploring California Governor Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown “to get together with Linda Ronstadt, his former main squeeze, and other Hollywood celebrities, and get on the ‘ban fracking’ bandwagon.”

So it seems that the “ban fracking” bandwagon may be working in New York and perhaps will play well on the left coast while shale plays in other regions of America not under the spell of Hollywood celebrities continue to help to power our country.

Stephen Smith focuses his practice on environmental and energy-related matters including regulatory counseling and litigation, administrative law, governmental affairs and lobbying. He represents clients before federal and state courts and administrative agencies. He provides client counseling and advice on compliance, permitting and agency communications as well as business transactions.
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