By Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star
---- — COOPERSTOWN — Gov. Andrew Cuomo contended Monday that legislation aimed at holding up a decision to permit shale gas drilling in New York until outside studies are completed is “political” in nature and suggested his administration will reach a conclusion soon.
Referring to one fracking study being conducted in Pennsylvania and another by the Environmental Protection Agency, Cuomo said in Albany: “Nobody ever said that we were waiting for the studies to be finished.”
The governor added: “The Department of Health was going to be looking at those studies and see if there was anything constructive in those studies.”
He said it remains unclear how the unfinished research being conducted outside New York would influence the state’s review of whether to move forward with issuing fracking permits.
“Maybe they are useless, in which case they are useless,” Cuomo said. “Maybe they have some information that is instructive, in which case we will use the information.”
Joining Cuomo at the media briefing, state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah suggested that he will soon make a recommendation on whether fracking could be permitted without jeopardizing public health, regardless of the fact that studies evaluating that question are ongoing.
“We’ve been working with our experts very closely, going back and forth,” Shah said. “I anticipate we’ll be done in the next few weeks. There’s no real timetable. We are learning more information as we go, and we want to make sure we cover all the ground and not rush through this.”
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens, whose agency would oversee the permitting process, has said the decision on when to issue permits will come after Shah shares his conclusions.
Both Martens and Shah are Cuomo appointees.
Cuomo also appeared to give advice to the gas drilling industry on how it could better market its agenda in New York, according to comments attributed to him Monday by Gannett News Service.
“I think the landowners’ consultants and the lobbyists for the pro-fracking groups would be better advised to spend their time actually getting out information to allay the fears of the people of this state than worrying about hallway chatter,” Gannett quoted Cuomo as saying. “Their job is to communicate to the people of the state, to say that this is a safe process, to be open and available. And that’s what they should be doing.”
Cuomo called Assembly legislation to slow down the process of permitting fracking “political.”
“I don’t believe that bill passes,” Cuomo said. “We’re not looking for a political resolution here.”
Although the Assembly bill passed overwhelmingly, it has been bottled up in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans and a group of Democrats led by Bronx Sen. Jeff Klein.
Supporters of a delay in permitting fracking argue that to have stringent regulations that protect the public health, New York should hold off on any decision regarding the permits until both the EPA and research in Pennsylvania — known as the Geisinger Health System study — have been completed. They are expected to wrap up by early 2015.
The Geisinger study will examine the medical histories of hundreds of thousands of patients who live near shale gas production facilities and wells along the same Marcellus Shale formation that would be fracked in New York.
Adrian Kuzminski of Fly Creek, moderator of the anti-fracking group Sustainable Otsego, said by stating he was prepared to reach a decision before the comprehensive outside health studies are finished, the governor was contradicting his claim that he would “follow the science.”
“It sounds as if they are throwing the health studies overboard,” Kuzminski said. “They are not serous about the health impacts. That is pretty outrageous. If they are not willing to wait for studies to be done the way they are supposed to be done, and then to claim they are looking at the health impacts makes this indeed a charade.”
Michael Zagata of Davenport, a former state environmental commissioner who served under former Gov. George Pataki, said many school districts throughout the region are cutting budgets and laying off teachers. He said fracking will stimulate the economy and bring much-needed jobs to upstate New York.
“We’ve waited over four years, and when they make a decision, we need to look at it and say: That’s fairly well-thought,” Zagata said. “But I’m willing to wager with you that if the decision is to move forward (with fracking), the folks who don’t want it to happen are going to start litigation while our schools continue to close, our businesses continue to close and people continue to leave the area.”