NY DEC head: No outside study of fracking health

Associated Press Modified: September 20, 2012 at 6:16 pm •  Published: September 20, 2012

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The state health commissioner and "qualified outside experts" will review the health impacts of shale gas drilling before a moratorium on the "fracking" extraction process is lifted, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said Thursday.

Martens said he has rejected calls from health and environmental groups for a health impact analysis by a university school of public health or other independent group, saying such a review is the job of government. Martens said he's asked Health Commissioner Nirav Shah to assess DEC's own health impact analysis.

"I have also asked Dr. Shah to identify the most qualified outside experts to advise him in his review," Martens said in a prepared statement. "While the review will be informed by outside perspectives on the science of hydrofracking, the decision-making will remain a governmental responsibility."

Martens didn't say whether Shah has begun the review, or indicate how long it would take.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he will decide whether to allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," only after the DEC review that began in 2008 is completed. Martens said the review won't be complete until Shah's review has been done.

Martens said his agency has been reviewing about 80,000 comments submitted on its environmental impact review and proposed regulations. Many of those comments focused on potential health impacts of fracking, which frees gas from shale by injecting a well with high volumes of water mixed with chemicals and sand. Martens said he recently met with several environmental groups that said they weren't satisfied with DEC's effort to address public health impacts.

"I believe it is highly likely that some of these groups will pursue litigation following the conclusion of the departmental process if they do not agree with the outcome," Martens said. The health commissioner's review "will ensure the strongest possible legal position for the Department given the near certainty of litigation," he said.

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