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In a victory for environmental, health and community activists, fracking has been banned in New York state. That was the conclusion reached at a public, livestreamed meeting of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s cabinet in Albany today. Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation Joseph Martens issued the order, following a report on his own findings and a strongly cautionary report from Dr. Howard Zucker, commissioner of the Department of Health, who compared the unknown health impacts of fracking to those of secondhand smoke, once considered benign.

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The hearing opened unpromisingly with Cuomo making what sounded like condescending remarks on the issue.

“I’ve been asked about 46,000 times at various decibel levels,” he said as he introduced the subject. “The dialogue on fracking is an emotional one, both pro and con. You talk to anti-frackers for 30 seconds and they’re yelling and they’re passionate and emotional and scared and they’re not listening and they’re not hearing and they’re yelling. You listen to pro-frackers and same thing. This is probably the most emotionally charged issue I’ve experienced, more emotionally charged than marriage equality, more emotionally charged than the gun issue, more emotionally charged than the death penalty.”

Commissioner of Environmental Conservation Joseph Martens issues decision banning fracking in New York. Photo credit: State of New York
Commissioner of Environmental Conservation Joseph Martens issues decision banning fracking in New York. Photo credit: State of New York

But he added, “I’m not a scientist. I’m not a health expert. I’m not a doctor. I’m not an environmentalist. So let’s bring the emotion down and ask qualified experts what their opinions is. My two cents on the matter is I will defer to these two gentlemen.”

“Those two gentlemen” he referred to were Martens and Zucker. They spoke following Cuomo’s remarks and their conclusion was clear: no fracking in New York.

Martens addressed some of the aspects that made fracking impractical and economically unattractive in the state, including the large areas that would be off limits to fracking due to endangering water supplies or local bans on drilling, which were ruled legal in the state by a court decision in June, finding in favor of the town of Dryden which enacted a ban. He also presented evidence that the highly touted evidence of the economic benefits of fracking to the region was questionable at best.

But it was Zucker who made the most powerful case against letting fracking go forward.

“The questions one would want answered are, is my water safe enough to drink, is my air safe to breath, can I grow vegetables in my garden, the effects on reservoirs that provide drinking water to 9 million people in New York City,” he said.

He referred to numerous studies, saying that they raised concerns about water and air contamination, health impacts on those living near wells and the increase in noise, odors, traffic and traffic fatalities.

“There are many red flags, questions that remain unanswered,” he said. “Bonafide scientific literature is now emerging. Most studies have been in the last two years. The bottom line is we lack long-term comprehensive studies. They’re not yet completed or yet to be initiated. The science isn’t there. These concerns gives me reason to pause.”

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