NY State Health Department Report Says Fracking Could Be Done Safely

Thursday, January 03, 2013

A document from Governor Cuomo’s Administration assessing the health impacts of hydro fracking, written in early 2012, 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, says “significant adverse impacts on human health are not expected from routine HVHF (hydro fracking) operations."

The report appears to have been intended for inclusion 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A spokeswoman for the DEC says the report is “outdated," and that no conclusions should be drawn.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 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 No conclusions should be drawn from this partial, outdated summary.”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 underway, 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."


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Comments [10]


There is so much methane naturally occurring in the area that it used to be used for lighting. In 1846 about one mile East of Churchville was a farm owned by one Linus Pierson. On that farm was a spring so loaded with natural methane that he constructed a pipe to bring it into the house where it fueled gas lights.

Aug. 06 2013 08:10 PM
Megan Swanson from Buffalo, NY

This is our children's planet, not ours. We cannot pollute their drinking water for our own "quick fix" for energy. We need to curb our energy consumption and look for alternatives that do not leave our children cleaning up our mess. Pumping chemicals into our children's future drinking water and the earth that our children and their children need to grow their food is not an option. Pumping chemicals into the ground and feeding their livestock on it, then eating it will make the future generations very sick. Common sense tells us this, not studies.

The reason you do not hear the horror stories from the now fracked land out west and in PA is because the people have been paid off and signed non-disclosures. No fracking in NY. Taxpayers will be paying enormous health benefits for very sick citizens in 20 years. Taxpayers will be paying for environmental clean up in 20 years. Taxpayers will be paying more for clean drinking water, demand will be high and supply short. The only ones walking away with all the money and benefit will be a rich few. Not you. No fracking.

Feb. 25 2013 10:43 AM
Olivia Thomas from Rockland County

To those who fear water contanimation I ask, "do you trust the state Health Department?" What motive would they have for making a false report?
I am sure that no one wants to create health problems. It seems that the focus is on preventing the Fracturing and not enough attention is being given to the the advantages to the area and to the entire state of New York. When the people are not working, less money is circulating, tax revenue is down, more people become dependent,those who truly need assistance from the state, and their families, will be in crisis. Would it not be wiser to come together and work toward making use of our natural resources safely and quickly? We use natural gas and oil. Why not use that which is in NY and build the economy? Take a look at the lack of revenue and the ramifications. Those in greatest need will suffer the most. Think and join together to focus on growing our economy while protecting our health. History seems to show that it has been done of many years.

Jan. 07 2013 11:16 PM
Joanne Corey from Vestal

How are the outside public health experts supposed to review the entire draft SGEIS, which is now reportedly between 3,000 and 4,000 pages, in only 25 hours of work time?

Executive Order 41 ordered a review which is cumulative and comprehensive. No effort from DEC has proved to be either of those things. There is a lot of ignoring of evidence of harm from other states and of emerging scientific study. The Garfield County CO study that finds increased cancer risk within a half mile of wellsites. At least two papers on the dangers of radium from wastewater, when current law still allows wastewater to spread on roads and the proposed regulations still do not direct how wastewater must be disposed of safely. The landmark Bamberger/Oswald study of health effects in animals and humans. The high rates of asthma in heavily drilled Tarrant County TX, being studied by Baylor.

It is eerie to read about "risks being minimized" when you are living in an area where you and your neighbors are the ones about to be put at risk. Raising my risk of cancer or asthma is not an acceptable trade-off for cheap methane.

Jan. 04 2013 07:37 AM
Hugh K

There is a list of some 650 people in PA whose health has been compromised by fracking. There have been migrating methane, ground pollution, waterpollution, air pollution, poisoned fish, sick animals wild and domestic, in numberous areas all over this country. Anyone who says fracking is safe and that there no disasters has a different definition of disaster than I do.

And to talk about fracking and its 70 years history (not including horizontal drilling) is like talking about pee wee league football as opposed to NFL football. The impacts from horizontal fracking are magnified many fold in gallons of fluids used, in the amount of flowback, in number of truck trips, in noise, etc.

We know that fracking is not being done safely on a cocsistent basis, we are concerned that NYS regulations are not enough to prevent serious problems, and we know that the DEC does not have 1/20th of the trained people it will need to supervise drilling in the field.

NYS is not ready to be drilled, there is a glut of gas now, there is no need to drill NY now. If we are to drill some day, lets be really sure we do it right. At a minimum we need to wait until EPA's study is complete in 2014.

In the meantime DEC needs to put transparency back into the SGEIS/regulation process, complete the SGEIS including the health secton, let the public review it, and then let us comment on the regulations which are supposed to be based on the SGEIS.

Jan. 03 2013 10:25 PM
Barbara Boyce from Churchville New York

What has happened with the reporting of this year old document is akin to a slight of hand trick. Folks for drilling will say "see...they said it was ok" and folks who are still fighting to ban HVHF will continue to clear up misinformation.

Throughout the document it repeatedly says, "With the proposed mitigation measures in place, human exposure levels to HVHF-related [contamination] would be reduced below established health-based standards or guidelines." The key of this report is based on the the proposed measures in GUIDELINES which are currently being debated and questioned through the DEC regulation guides of the original 1992 GEIS and Supplemental GEIS. The topic of what is safe is being hotly contested.

Another fallacy of the health "report" is that chemical contamination and air pollution is cumulative - not a singular effect. Will the impact of 1 well on a road be the same as 10 wells? 100 wells? Can a region physically be safe when 1000 wells are in a close proximity in an area? These kinds of questions will only be answered with modern day studies based on the operations in place now - not those in 1992.

As a citizen of NY who is continually investigating the fracking issue, I am outraged at the news media for publishing this document summary with headlines and comments like it was the final DOH Health Impact Review we have been waiting for. DEC regulations are in a state of flux with many questions being asked. After Jan 11 when public review and comment period is closed we will see even more questions and documentations. So to suggest this health summary document somehow resolves the health topic is absurd and a lie to all citizens who live in regions of drilling interests.

Jan. 03 2013 09:45 PM

Really don't know what to think of it all. It's creating alot of jobs but then again, so is coal mining however Obama's trying his best to put coal miners out of jobs. Vicious circle.

Jan. 03 2013 11:48 AM

Hundreds of thousands of wells, no disasters. Hydraulic fracturing is safe. Hydraulic fracturing is creating hundreds of thousands of very well paying jobs. Hydraulic fracturing is powering our economy forward. Hydraulic fracturing is leading the US of A to energy independence and payback will be saved lives for no more "war for oil". Hydraulic fracturing is saving the environment from human virii, saving the environment from global cooling/dimming/acid rain/warming/climate change/carbon dioxide (tree/plant food) pollution. Hydraulic fracturing is saving family farms. Hydraulic fracturing is doing everything for the US of A that the left coast hates, allowing US of A businesses to thrive instead of the left coasters choking the capitalist pigs into submitting into transformation of US businesses back to mule and cart technology so that foreign countries/businesses can dominate the US similar to the "domination" the US imposed/imposes through pro-capitalist pig laws and through the world bank/imf/etc. Hydraulic fracturing is assisting US businesses and labor to once again compete on price contrary to the wishes of left coasters who detest US "military-industrial complex".

Jan. 03 2013 11:31 AM
Mike Kloppel from United States

Omg! You mean a process which has been in use for 70 years (not including horizontal drilling) and is used in literally hundreds of thousands of wells all over the world was found to NOT be magically unhealthy in just NY?

DUM DUM DUM! Surprise!

This obviously just more Oil company propoganda...Oh wait the state DEC did the study? Forget I said that.

OK Cuomo, now stop treating NYS private property like your own little personal fiefdom and get out of the way of private individuals safely exploiting their property for personal gain.

Jan. 03 2013 10:33 AM
Ray186 from NYC

To even think of putting NYS water supply at risk is unconscionable. Gov. Cuomo why don't you just wait a few years to actually see the results of fracking in Kansas, Ohio, North Dakota, and Texas.

We already know what is happening in Wyoming: The Cowboy State has seen hundreds of new gas wells drilled in the past 15 years, with 200 near the town of Pavillion alone. But residents started alleging a connection between the drilling and water contamination in their wells about ten years ago. The EPA began a review in 2009 and last December stated that harmful chemicals from fracking fluids were likely present in the Pavillion aquifer. The EPA was careful to note that its findings "are specific to Pavillion" and are not applicable to fracking projects all over the country. the aquifer in Pavillion will never be cleaned. The contamination there, for the foreseeable future, is permanent.

Do you really want to be the next Governor that has another Love Canal created on their watch?

Jan. 03 2013 05:04 AM

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