New York’s Assembly approved a two-year ban on the natural-gas drilling method known as fracking, after two previous attempts to block the practice failed and with the state Senate taking a different approach.
The state has been studying the safety of hydraulic fracturing since 2008, and blocked its use in the meantime. The Assembly’s ban would lift in May 2015. Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has said he’s waiting until the Health Department concludes a separate analysis to make a decision.
“We will not sit idly by and endanger the health and safety of our communities by rushing necessary health and safety reviews,” said Sheldon Silver, the Manhattan Democrat who leads the chamber. “We need to better understand the broad impacts to our environment, our economy and the health and safety of all who work and live in New York.”
The growth of fracking, in which water and chemicals are injected into shale rock formations to free trapped oil and gas, helped push natural-gas prices to a decade low last year. U.S. natural gas production is at record highs and U.S. oil output in February rose to the highest since 1992.
Previous moves by the Assembly to put off fracking have been unsuccessful and the state Senate is considering a different path. The lower house passed a one-year moratorium in 2010 that was vetoed by Governor David Paterson. Another one-year ban was approved in June 2011, and died in the Senate.
Five breakaway Democrats who are sharing leadership of the Senate with Republicans introduced a measure March 5 that would require the state to wait until Geisinger Health System completes a review of health histories of people who live close to wells and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finishes another review of effects on drinking water.
The process poses a dilemma for Cuomo, 55, who must balance prospects for the type of economic development seen in Ohio and Pennsylvania against environmentalists’ warnings that it may damage water supplies and make farmland unusable.
Rich Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman, didn’t respond to an e-mail requesting comment on the Assembly’s vote.
Last month, Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens said the state would begin issuing fracking permits before creating regulations if the Health Department says natural-gas drilling is safe. Health Commissioner Nirav Shah has said he’ll review the Geisinger study before making his determinations.
Geisinger, a Danville, Pennsylvania-based nonprofit chain of hospitals, is mining its database of medical records to determine if fracking has damaged patients’ health.