High-volume hydraulic fracturing (or simply, ‘fracking’) is characterized by the pressurized injection of unique water-chemical mixtures thousands of feet below our planet’s surface. This forced insertion enlarges cracked geologic formations, releasing trapped hydrocarbons like natural gas and petroleum for collection. Although some champion fracking as a futuristic means of energy recovery, others see it as a shortsighted practice that carries great risks to our society’s collective health.
The state’s Acting Health Commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, announced this formal prohibition alongside the publication of his department’s comprehensive public health review of the contentious practice. In the months leading up to its release, much speculation and anticipation had built around the study’s potential contents.
For those unaware of New York’s political picture, Governor Andrew Cuomo has taken quite an unremarkable stance on the fracking issue while in office. His predecessor instituted a moratorium on drilling in 2008 that remained indefinitely in place until today. Leases by energy companies in the western part of the state sat underutilized during this uncertain period, while local grassroots movements slowly simmered.
A Democrat with aspirations for federal office, Cuomo has purposely aligned himself as a bipartisan figure on the controversial topic. He’s repeatedly called upon the ‘science to speak for itself,’ despite ordering federal scientists to downplay the health and environmental risks included in an earlier state-commissioned study. Thankfully, this time around, the censoring of scientific information appears to be absent.
Today’s insightful display from the Cuomo administration is undoubtedly the result of immense outside pressure. The risks associated with fracking have become increasingly well documented in scientific literature over the past few years and are now almost impossible to ignore.
In fact, just this past Thursday, two massive reviews of fracking-related scientific studies were sent to Mr. Cuomo and Dr. Zucker. Both compiled by independent nongovernmental entities, the studies investigate many outcomes related to the unconventional industry’s development. From increased levels of pollution and community instability to weakened property values and reproductive health, there’s little included that could be considered positive.
This may seem like a regional issue. It is not. The future of fracking in New York carries vast domestic and international implications, as the state possesses one of our country’s largest tracts of underdeveloped ‘frackable’ land. New York also neighbors Pennsylvania, a state where the fracking boom has shown firsthand how it can tear communities apart and leave individuals searching for answers.
These answers have been difficult to come by, given Pennsylvania’s industry-first regulatory climate. There’s been a tremendous lack of accountability on matters like surface water removal, chemical disclosure, and wastewater management. All the while, complaints of water contamination and abnormal health occurrences have skyrocketed.
Though Pennsylvania’s woes are direct examples for New Yorkers, many of the same problems can be seen wherever fracking has become commonplace, whether it be Ohio, Texas, Colorado, or even Louisiana.
Individuals living in impoverished communities across our country have leased their lands to fossil-fuel companies because of the promise of much-needed economic stimulus. They’ve instead been left with the industry’s unaccounted costs. Inequity has thus only grown larger and until proper regulatory mechanisms are instituted, those residing in the most vulnerable communities will continue to pay the greatest price for fracking.
New York has decided against subjecting its residents to these unnecessary and nonsensical risks. In doing so, it has offered a flicker of hope for an extremely uncertain future.
James Hartwell is a public health graduate student and GRN’s Water Resources Intern.