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February 2012 report from NY state health dept says fracking could be done safely

A document from Governor Cuomo’s administration assessing the health impacts of hydrofracking, written less than a year ago, says the gas drilling process is likely safe if proper precautions are taken by the governor’s environmental agency, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). 

The document, obtained by New York State public radio and other news organizations, outlines potential health risks associated with hydrofracking in New York.  Those include possible exposure to chemicals used in hydrofracking, potential contamination of drinking water sources, and health impacts from naturally occurring radium that could be brought to the surface through the gas drilling process.

While the report says there are potential health risks involved in hydrofracking, it concludes that in each instance, proper mitigation measures that will be required by the state Department of Environmental Conservation will minimize any potential harm and reduce risks.  The report, written in February of 2012, nearly a year ago, says “significant adverse impacts on human health are not expected from routine HVHF hydrofracking operations”.

The report appears to have been intended to be included in the state’s ongoing environmental review of fracking. It also advises against trying to do a site specific quantitative risk assessment of fracking, saying there are too many variables and that too many assumptions would have to be made.

A spokeswoman for the DEC says the report is “outdated”, and that no conclusions should be drawn. “The  document is not a health assessment, is nearly a year old, and does not reflect final DEC policy,” said DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis,  in a statement. “The final SGEIS will reflect the review currently underway by DOH (New York State Department of Health) and its outside experts. No conclusions should be drawn from this partial, outdated summary.”

The state’s health commissioner is currently reviewing health data from the DEC, with the help of three nationally known experts.

Little is known about what the data contains. Here’s what Governor Cuomo said about the health study, when asked in mid- December.

“They’re looking at the experiences of other states in the country where this has been done,” said Cuomo. “Reports of possible health consequences, whether or not it’s true, what remediation was done, what protections were taken.”

Cuomo says the health experts will “help us make a determination whether or not there is a true health risk, or not”.

The DEC spokeswoman, Emily DeSantis, says the health experts are reviewing the “entire” draft environmental impact statement, which has not yet been released to the public.

Katherine Nadaeu, with Environmental Advocates, says she hopes the health experts are looking at much more than what’s contained in the February 2012 document.

“I hope Governor Cuomo is going to stand by his word on this and [to] rely on the public health experts and address the questions that they’ve raised,” Nadeau said. “But if this is the final [version] then we could be in a lot of trouble.”

In September, Nadeau submitted a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request to view all existing reports on the health impacts of hydrofracking written by either the Cuomo Administration’s health department or environmental agency. She was told a diligent search was under way, and that a response could not be given until the end of January.

A spokesman for the industry group the Independent Oil and Gas Association (IOGA) says the February 2012 report appears to employ “common sense”.  IOGA spokesman Jim Smith says with proper precautions, any potential risks from fracking “will be minimized”.   

A spokeswoman for the State Health Department says there’s “no definitive deadline” for when the health review will be finished. (The period for public comment on the extant draft hydrofracking regulations for New York expires on January 11th.)

Governor Cuomo continues to say he wants all of the science and facts before he makes a final decision.

Cuomo, when asked Wednesday about the state’s ongoing review of hydrofracking, said there’s “nothing new”.  

UPDATE: 1030 a.m. 01032013

Executive Director of the New York State Petroleum Council, Karen Moreau, released the following statement in reaction to the document.

Today's news reports that the New York State Health Department found in an analysis it prepared early last year that hydraulic fracturing could be conducted safely in New York should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched this industry grow and prosper across the United States. In fact, these reports confirm what has been clear for some time now: sensible regulations can ensure safe natural gas development will protect land, water and public health while providing tens of thousands of good jobs throughout the Marcellus Shale.

You can read the entire document below:

Hydraulic Fracturing Health Impact Study New York State

Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio.