Cuomo Confidential: Secret N.Y. Dept. of Health Review of HF Concludes It is Safe

Over the past few months frustration has mounted in New York as the state struggles to finalize its natural gas regulations. What may have originally been an attempt at a pragmatic review has quickly devolved into political theater, with each day bringing new information to light on the actions – or, all too often, inactions – of state officials who seem content to let the issue drag on indefinitely.

The latest example? A secret health review from Governor Cuomo’s hand picked Health Secretary which found that “significant adverse impacts on human health are not expected from routine HVHF operations.” The February 2012 report, which was never publicly released and only today uncovered by the press, noted that “the state’s proposed regulations would prevent any potential health risks from air emissions, water contamination, and radioactive materials unearthed during the drilling process.”  The report added that “human chemical exposure during normal HVHF operations will be prevented or reduced below levels of significant health concern.”

Wait, what? Weren’t we told that the health risks from hydraulic fracturing were “unknown,” thus necessitating yet another missed deadline for finalizing the state’s regulations so the state could complete a health review? Why did it take 11 months for this existing review to surface, and why did the state see fit to keep it hidden from the public view?

The answer to that last question could have something to do with the findings in the review itself, which refute nearly every significant criticism levied by opponents working day and night to stop natural gas development in New York. If the state has already determined those charges to be bogus, then how could it also credibly call for yet another analysis based on the content of those same accusations?

Three other findings are of particular note:

  • “With the aforementioned mitigation measures in place, human exposure due to HVHF-related contamination of water resources would be prevented or reduced below levels posing a health concern, and thus significant adverse impacts on human health are unlikely.”
  • “Based on currently available information it is anticipated that cuttings and flowback water will not contain significant levels of naturally occurring radiological materials (NORM)…. Any potential worker-health or waste-disposal impacts related to concentrated NORM are already subject to controls under existing DOH and DEC regulations…with those measures in place, potential significant adverse impacts on human health from NORM exposure are unlikely.”
  • “With the proposed mitigation measures in place, human exposure levels to HVHF-related air contaminants would be reduced below established health-based standards or guidelines.  Therefore, significant adverse human health impacts from air emissions are associated with high-volume hydraulic fracturing operations are unlikely.”

The review also found that the proposed regulatory system for transporting produced and flowback fluids “will be subject to recordkeeping requirements similar to the treatment of medical waste, which are more stringent than requirements for conventional wastewater hauling.”

That, of course, would be news to Catskill Mountainkeeper and others who frequently declare that the state has “no plan” for disposing of wastes from the fracturing process (see point 8).

Taken together, all of this makes us wonder: If the Governor had clear answers refuting some of the most serious claims made by opponents, then why would he encourage his agencies to sit on that information? In that same vein, why would he appear on the Fred Dicker Show (Nov. 20th) to make inflammatory statements like “people are afraid of being poisoned” if he had information that could alleviate those public fears? What’s more, with 80,000 New Yorkers seeking answers to questions about potential health impacts from hydraulic fracturing, why would he purposely keep those answers hidden from the very people he was elected to represent?

For someone who has indicated that science should determine the outcome of this discussion, this is undoubtedly an odd course to take. It appears the Governor is obstructing the opinions of qualified experts in order to cater to the needs of influential downstaters who want to ban hydraulic fracturing in the Empire State. Worse yet, this chain of events provides some credence to a recent New York Post editorial, which suggested the Governor’s end goal on HF regulation is for the current moratorium never to be lifted.

Regardless of the motives, all of this has to be frustrating for landowners in upstate New York who want nothing more than to be able to enjoy a respectable living in a state that contains the nation’s 10th highest unemployment rate and one of the nation’s highest property tax burdens. While the Governor plays a game of political Chess with the one option that could actually provide them relief, men and women throughout the state struggle to pay the bills, find jobs, and in some cases hold onto their family farms.

Of course, the Governor should also recall how voters in the Empire State took their frustration to the ballot box by voting against candidates who called for more delays and outright bans on hydraulic fracturing.

As residents in New York continue to struggle, more of whom support responsible shale development than oppose it, an important question lingers: Is Governor Cuomo really being guided by science and concern for the state’s residents, or is all of this being carefully manufactured based on a reading of the political tea leaves four years from now? Stay tuned.



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