Hydraulic fracturing is safe for human health and the environment as long as proper safeguards are in place, the New York Department of Health concluded in a much-anticipated report.
No Significant Health Effects
“Significant adverse effects on human health are not expected from routine HVHF,” or high-volume hydraulic fracturing, the report said. The conclusion is in an eight-page summary of research into the effect of fracking on water, soil, and quality of life that was written in early 2012 but kept under wraps until it was leaked to the New York Times in January 2013.
Deadline for Regulations Extended
In late November the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the lead agency overseeing fracking issues in New York, was granted a 90-day extension to its original deadline for completing draft fracking regulations. According to the DEC website, the purpose of the extension is to allow the state’s health commissioner and a trio of outside experts to review DEC’s environmental impact study. The 90-day extension expired in late February and the DEC filed with the New York Secretary of State for another 30-day extension.
Fracking involves injecting water, sand, and trace amounts of natural and manmade chemicals into shale formations deep underground to release energy-rich deposits of oil and/or natural gas. In New York State, the Marcellus Shale underlies the state’s Southern Tier and contains huge quantities of natural gas.
While neighboring Pennsylvania and Ohio are in the midst of an economic turnaround driven by shale oil and natural gas production, a four-year-old moratorium on fracking in New York has perpetuated chronic unemployment in the state’s Southern Tier. The moratorium has driven a wedge between people in the New York City metropolitan area, who generally oppose fracking, and people in the rest of the state, who support it.
Fracking’s Economic Benefits
A recent report by energy analysts at IHS, an energy and economics consulting firm, underscores the job-creating effects of the shale revolution. IHS estimates shale-based energy has already created 1.7 million jobs, directly and indirectly, in the United States. In addition to the job-creation, royalties from oil and natural gas production flow to landowners who lease their property to drilling companies.
In Pennsylvania alone, royalty payments exceeded $1.2 billion in 2012, according to an Associated Press analysis of tax returns, production records, and figures from the National Association of Royalty Owners. Landowners in New York’s Southern Tier can only look with envy at the good fortune of their counterparts in the Keystone State.
Cuomo Contemplates Decision
In his State of the State address in early January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) acknowledged the economic difficulties plaguing upstate New York. “We need an additional focus on upstate New York,” Cuomo said. “There have been decades of decline in upstate New York. When you look at the job growth in upstate New York, frankly, it is sad and troubling.”
Cuomo, however, scrupulously avoided the subject of fracking in his speech, much less acknowledge natural-gas development could alleviate the Southern Tier’s endemic poverty.
One possible outcome is a “neither fish nor fowl” decision. Energy advocates fear Cuomo may lift the moratorium but approve such strict regulations on fracking that drilling companies will turn their backs on New York and seek their fortunes in friendlier places.
“It is difficult to understand New York’s ban on high-volume hydraulic fracturing,” said Daniel Simmons, director of state policy at the Institute for Energy Research. “Study after study shows fracking does not contaminate groundwater, and yet Albany continues to deny New Yorkers the benefits of the Southern Tier’s abundant resources of natural gas.”
“There hasn’t been a single confirmed case of groundwater contamination from fracking, even though the process has been used in over one million wells during the past 60 years,” Simmons explained. “Maybe now Gov. Cuomo will acknowledge the Department of Health is right in saying fracking is safe, and he will finally lift the ban.”
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C.
“Pennsylvania Fracking Royalties Could Top $1 Billion As Private Landowners Rake in Cash,” Business Insider, Jan. 28, 2013, http://www.businessinsider.com/fracking-royalty-payments-in-pa-2013-1