By David Kowalski
Many lawmakers, as well as the governor and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), seem bent on moving forward on unconventional shale-gas drilling. Sadly, they ignored sound advice from 250 physicians and healthcare/scientific experts  who recognize the lack of a Health Impact Assessment as a major flaw in the DEC’s draft hydrofracking regulations.
Dr. Gina Solomon, a physician with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said health concerns include air pollution, potential contamination of ground or surface water with methane or chemicals used in fracturing fluids, fires or explosions, heavy truck traffic, and altered social conditions.
In a Senate Session on the 2012-2013 Budget last week, Senator Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo), Chair of the Environmental Conservation Committee, spoke on the budget. He said that "in other states where high-volume hydraulic fracturing is occurring there are health impact studies that I believe that the DOH [Dept. of Health] to the advisory council is going to be taking a look at. It's very difficult to do a health study on high-volume hydraulic fracturing in NY state when it's not occurring here." [see video here]
Human health impacts deserve far more investigation than "a look." A proper study requires research and funding. Also, the fact that high-volume hydraulic fracturing is "not occurring here" in NY did not stop the DEC from hiring a consulting firm, Ecology and Environment Inc., to do an economic study at a cost of $223,000. That study [4Mb PDF] was in fact based primarily on the occurrence of hydrofracking in the neighboring state of Pennsylvania.
The Assembly Majority had already passed a bill calling for a health study. The $100,000 study would include research into other states' experiences with fracking. It would estimate costs of any health impacts to the state, insurers, employers and the health care system and include a long-term plan for monitoring and mitigating health impacts.
The Senate drafted a health impact assessment bill to fund an in-depth $300,000 study. Sen. Tony Avella (D-Queens), the bill's sponsor and a member of the Environmental Conservation Committee, said in a statement, "Before we allow companies to start drilling for gas and pumping chemicals near our watersheds, it is only reasonable that a study be conducted to provide us with more information about the hydrofracking process and the potential health impacts."
At the 2012-2013 Budget session last week, Sen. Avella introduced an amendment to environmental budget legislation that would have included a health impact assessment on hydrofracking. Avella said, "No matter which side of the aisle you are on, whether you are for hydrofracking or against hydrofracking, the very fact that we could do this process without analyzing the seismic or health impacts of hydrofracking, in my opinion is an absolute disgrace." [see video here]
Senator Avella, the Senate Democratic Conference, and the Assembly Majority should be commended for demonstrating their leadership and dedication to protecting the health and well-being of the people of New York. The bill (S.6772) sponsored by Avella is currently in the Environmental Conservation Committee chaired by Senator Grisanti.
Claire Sandberg, Executive Director of Water Defense, said, “One only need to look at the devastation wreaked by fracking in Pennsylvania to see that gas drilling cannot be done safely. There are perhaps hundreds of families just across the border who are without access to safe drinking water because of fracking-related contamination. How can we trust our elected officials who say we can regulate this inherently dangerous practice, if they don't even support basic funding to study its effect on our public health?"
A full assessment of its health impacts must be completed before a decision can be made about whether or not hydrofracking is permitted in New York.
Kate Hudson, Watershed Program Director at NY Riverkeeper said, "We would still call on the governor to take action. He is in a position to accept or reject any of the proposed change. We think this is way too important and we are going to continue to lobby the Legislature."
Dr. Sandra Steingraber speaks to the DEC about their recent Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) and calls for a comprehensive study on the Health Impacts of hydrofracking. Listen:
 Experts included the Medical Society of the State of New York, the American Academy of Pediatrics of New York State, the NY State Nurses Association, the Academy of Family Physicians of New York State, and over 250 individual physicians and scientists.