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NY fracking health study news draws cheers, jeers

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 3, 2013 at 9:18 pm •  Published: March 3, 2013
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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — While opponents of fracking are pleased at a report that Gov. Andrew Cuomo will wait for a Pennsylvania health study before deciding whether to allow drilling, landowners are preparing to sue New York over lost gas-leasing opportunities and an industry group warned Sunday that a business exodus from the state will worsen.

The Associated Press reported Saturday that Cuomo came close to approving a limited drilling plan for as many as 40 shale gas wells last month before environmentalist and former brother-in-law Robert Kennedy Jr. helped persuade him to await a new study, which could delay a decision for up to a year or longer.

Cuomo is expected to announce a formal decision after the Department of Environmental Conservation completes its 5-year environmental impact study, but that decision has already been delayed twice. DEC Commissioner Joe Martens has said that study will be finished after Health Commissioner Nirav Shah makes recommendations based on his own review, which will include a look at the new $1 million Geisinger Health System study launched recently in Pennsylvania.

Unlike most studies funded by advocates or opponents of hydraulic fracturing, the Geisinger study would be funded by the Sunbury, Pa.-based Degenstein Foundation, which is not seen as having an ideological bent.

"I think it will be pivotal," Kennedy told the AP. Preliminary results are expected within the year, but final conclusions could be years off. The study will look at health histories of hundreds of thousands of patients who live near gas wells and other facilities producing natural gas from the same Marcellus Shale formation that New York would tap.

New York has had a moratorium since 2008 on horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing, which frees natural gas from shale by injecting a well with chemically treated water and sand at enormous pressure. Other states in the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation have seen local economies boom as drilling rigs have sprouted up.

Jim Smith of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York said Sunday that permit applications for conventional vertical gas wells, which are still allowed in the state but are less profitable than the far-larger shale gas wells, have dropped from about 600 in 2008 to below 200 in 2012 as the industry has moved to other states.

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