New York landowners hoping to cash in on gas leases will have to wait a few more weeks for the final decision on whether to allow high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing. That’s because a key health impact study won’t be completed by this week’s deadline.
Today NY Dept. of Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah, sent a letter to Dept. of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens saying: we need more time to finish the health review.
The Department of Health review asks whether the final draft SGEIS (Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement) adequately identifies potential public health impacts of high-volume horizontal hydro-fracking. It also considers whether DEC needs to add mitigation measures beyond those already proposed in the SGEIS.
The decision to permit fracking “involves complex questions about the impact of the process on public health,” Shah wrote in his letter to Martens. “The time to ensure the impacts on public health are properly considered is before a state permits drilling.”
According to Shah, the DOH review focuses on the relationship of hydro-fracking to the health impacts of drinking water contamination, air quality and community impacts. His department is reviewing recent studies published by the scientific community including:
- The US EPA hydraulic fracturing study (EPA published a 278 page progress report a few weeks ago)
- The Geisinger Health Systems study in PA (plans to analyze health records for asthma and other respiratory diseases, accidents and injuries, and birth outcomes)
- A University of Pennsylvania study in collaboration with scientists from Columbia, Johns Hopkins and the University of North Carolina.
Shah concluded with a reminder that “…the Governor's instruction has been to let the science determine the outcome.”
With the health review incomplete, the DEC will not be able to issue the thousand-page-plus environmental impact statement tomorrow – a requirement to meet a Feb. 27 deadline for its regulations. Missing that deadline could mean that DEC would have to reintroduce the fracking rules, a process that would re-open then to public comment.
But maybe not, says DEC Commissioner Martens. In response, Martens reiterated that he would not issue a final SGEIS until the health review is complete. He admitted that, indeed, the proposed high-volume hydraulic fracturing regulations cannot be finalized until the SGEIS is complete.
But, says Martens, “this does not mean that the issuance of permits for high-volume hydraulic fracturing would be delayed.” IF the Health Review determines that the SGEIS adequately addresses health concerns, and IF Martens adopts the SGEIS on that basis, then “DEC can accept and process high-volume hydraulic fracturing permit applications 10 days after issuance of the SGEIS.” If, on the other hand, the health review determines that there are health concerns that still need to be addressed, DEC won’t issue permits.
It all sounds very “iffy”. Meanwhile, lawyers on both sides of the issue are sharpening their pencils…