ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A coalition of environmental groups on Tuesday called on state officials to release details of a health impact study for shale gas drilling and a procedure that involves blasting chemical-laden water deep into the ground.
Representatives of a dozen prominent organizations signed a letter to Health Commissioner Nirav Shah and Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens. They asked them to make public the health impact study being evaluated by a scientific panel, and they called for public hearings and a 60-day public comment period on the health study.
A DEC spokeswoman referred questions to the health department, which didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
The DEC did the health study as part of an environmental impact review of shale gas development started in July 2008 and expected to be completed within a few months.
Shale gas development often involves a drilling procedure called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Large volumes of water, along with sand and hazardous chemicals, are injected underground to break rock apart and free the oil and gas. The energy industry says the procedure has been used safely for years, but environmentalists, homeowners and other critics say it can pollute water supplies. One of the biggest shale deposits, the Marcellus Shale lies, under parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia.
Martens announced in September that he was rejecting demands from health and environmental groups to commission a comprehensive health impact study by university experts on shale gas development. Such a study likely would scrutinize the potential for myriad health impacts, from diesel exhaust air pollution to sexually transmitted diseases spread by out-of-state well site workers.
Instead, Martens said he had asked Shah to review the health impacts identified by the DEC in its environmental study and commission a panel of nationally recognized experts to weigh in as well.
No details of the DEC's health impact assessment have been made public. The assessment was not included in the 1,500-page draft environmental impact study released in September 2011. That document and an earlier version released in 2009 generated more than 80,000 public comments.
The letter from the environmental coalition says: "To be valid and meaningful, it is absolutely critical that the health review process provide a genuine opportunity for input by local, county and New York State medical and public health professionals."
Brad Gill, head of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, said energy companies "believe that state agencies have met, and exceeded, their obligations to assess potential health impacts" and they "strongly oppose any further delay."
With the health impact review still pending, the DEC released revised drilling regulations for public comment on Dec. 12 and is taking comments until Jan. 11. The environmental groups also criticized that decision, saying the health review should come first.
Groups signing the letter include Catskill Mountainkeeper, Common Cause, Environmental Advocates, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Earthjustice and Adirondack Mountain Club, among others.
John Krohn, a spokesman for the industry group Energy in Depth, said the latest effort is "more of the same from activists opposing oil and gas development" in New York.
"Their intention is not to ensure a solid regulatory document but rather to delay its approval indefinitely," he said.