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Favorable fracking report emerges from Albany

A document from Governor Cuomo’s Administration assessing the health impacts of hydro fracking, written several months ago, says the gas drilling process is likely safe if proper precautions are taken by the governor’s environmental agency.  The document, obtained by New York State public radio and other news organizations, outlines potential health risks associated with hydro-fracking in New York.  Those include possible exposure to chemicals used in hydro-fracking, 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 hydro-fracking, 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 (hydro fracking) operations”.

The report appears to have been intended to be included in the state’s on going 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A spokeswoman for the DEC says the report is “outdated”, and that no conclusions should be drawn.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 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 No conclusions should be drawn from this partial, outdated summary.”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 then we could be in a lot of trouble.”

In September, Nadeau submitted a Freedom of Information request to view all existing reports on the health impacts of hydro fracking 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 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.

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 hydro fracking, said there’s “nothing new”.  

You can read the entire document http://www.scribd.com/doc/118765930/Hydraulic-Fracturing-Health-Impact-Study-New-York-State.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.