On Wednesday, December 17, 2014, Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration announced that it was banning the practice of hydraulic fracturing throughout New York State. The controversial practice, commonly known as "fracking" is a method to extract oil and gas from underground rock formations.
Fracking involves injecting large amounts of water, sand and other chemicals underground to fracture shale rock formations which then release oil and natural gas. The practice was banned statewide pursuant to health, safety and environmental concerns.
The debate in New York over fracking has been ongoing for a number of years, and there has been a statewide moratorium on the method since 2008. The moratorium was ostensibly temporary while state officials completed a study on the risks versus economic benefits of allowing the practice. However, the study, which was released earlier this week, recommended that the state ban fracking altogether.
The study, which was commissioned by New York, was presented earlier this week by Dr. Howard Zucker, the acting state health examiner. As he presented the study, Dr. Zucker noted that there were "significant public health risks" associated with fracking, and there was still not enough scientific evidence that fracking could be done safely. Dr. Zucker further stated that he would not want his own family to live in a community that allowed fracking.
The executive summary of the study stated, "In assessing whether public health would be adequately protected from a complex activity such as high volume hydraulic fracturing , a guarantee of absolute safety is not required. However, at a minimum, there must be sufficient information to understand what the likely public health risks will be. Currently, that information is insufficient."
The New York report cited multiple studies regarding the environmental and health risks associated with fracking. One of these studies found that methane emissions released during drilling operations were linked to cases of asthma and other breathing issues in Texas and Pennsylvania. Another study found that methane could seep into drinking water and contaminate wells through the underground fractures created by fracking. Eighty-two percent of homes in fracking communities in the Appalachian Plateau had methane in their drinking water, and concentrations increased when the homes were closer to the natural gas wells.
There has also been reports of higher levels of radioactive waste in the soil at natural gas sites.
Fracking may also contribute to global climate change and increase the risks of earthquakes. The method releases methane into the atmosphere, which is much more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Studies from Ohio and Oklahoma found that fracking can trigger earthquakes, and another study found that fracking resulted in a 2.3 magnitude earthquake and a 1.5 magnitude earthquake in the United Kingdom.
There has also been complaints of personal injuries and nuisances from individuals and families living near fracking sites. In addition to noise and odor pollution, residents reported symptoms including nausea, headaches, stomach pains and nosebleeds. A study in Colorado found that living close to development sites may increase the risk of birth defects.
Prior to this week's ban, some communities throughout New York banned the practice. In June 2014, the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, ruled that towns may use their zoning ordinances to ban fracking. The case involved Dryden in Tompkins County and Middlefield in Ostego County, which amended their zoning laws in 2011 to prohibit fracking. Energy companies and lease-holders filed complaints alleging that the state's oil and gas laws preempted town ordinances. However, the Court of Appeals upheld the prohibitions.
Fracking is still allowed in many states, including Pennsylvania, which sits atop the same rock formation as New York, the Marcellus Shale. Indeed, Pennsylvania has seen a boom in fracking and record-breaking natural gas production over the last few years, and there is some belief that New York's decision may benefit Pennsylvania even more. Tom Wolf, the new Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, opposes a ban in his own state, but he does want to strengthen regulations around the practice and increase taxes on the oil and gas industry.
While many people concerned with the environment and the health and safety of New Yorkers applaud the decision to ban the practice statewide, there are those that were disappointed since they believe that fracking could have brought economic development to certain areas.
Michael Brune, executive director of Sierra Club said, "This move puts significant pressure on other governors to take similar measures to protect people who live in their states."
If you or someone you know has been injured due to oil and gas exploration and development, including, but not limited to injuries from hydraulic fracturing, contact the lawyers at Louis Grandelli, P.C.