New York state to ban fracking over ‘red flags’ to public health

Source: theguardian Decision comes after two-year study spearheaded by health commissioner into the effects of fracking on the state’s air and water raises ‘serious questions’ [caption id="attachment_36646" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Anti-fracking protesters gather outside the auditorium before New York governor Andrew Cuomo gives his fourth state of the state address on 8 January 2014 in Albany, New York. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images "]Anti-fracking protesters gather outside the auditorium before New York governor Andrew Cuomo gives his fourth state of the state address on 8 January 2014 in Albany, New York. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images[/caption]

The state of New York said it would ban the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing on Wednesday because of “red flags” about its risks to public health.

The ban puts one of the last great areas of untapped potential in the Marcellus Shale off-limits to the oil and gas industry.

The decision was reached after a two-year study into the effects of fracking on the state’s air and water, and announced at a cabinet meeting in Albany.

“The takeaway that I get from the data is that there are serious questions about public health,” the governor, Andrew Cuomo, said.

New York state has had a moratorium on fracking for the past five years – and more than 120 towns across the state have outlawed the practice.

But Wednesday’s decision for a frack-free zone across an entire state was the biggest obstacle to date to an industry that has had rapid growth across a number of other states.

New York’s two-year review raised multiple concerns about the effects of fracking on public health.

“I cannot support high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the great state of New York,” Howard Zucker, the health commissioner, said. “There are many red flags.”

Zucker admitted there was still a lack of hard data about the effects of fracking on public health, but he said: “Would I let my child play in a school field nearby? After looking at the plethora of reports, my answer would be no.”

Asked why other states had allowed fracking given those health risks, Zucker said: “The fact is that many of those states didn’t bring their health teams to the table.”

The ban in New York comes at a time when oil and gas prices are falling around the country, shutting down hundreds of gas wells.

But the decision still carries political costs for Cuomo. The oil industry and supporters of fracking have countered that the industry could bring jobs to economically depressed areas of the state.

“I’ve never had anybody say to me ‘I believe fracking is great’. What I get is: ‘I have no alternative to fracking’,” Cuomo said on Wednesday. “But if you say I have no alternative, there is no economic opportunity.”

He went on: “The point is: they need jobs, and they need income, and what’s the alternative to fracking?”

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