ALBANY — The end-of-the-year due date for the completion of the Health Department’s report on the potential impacts of hydrofracking isn’t Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s deadline.
Clarifying what the governor said in last week’s gubernatorial debate, his office on Tuesday said that acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker was the one who determined the timeline for the submission of his agency’s work on the controversial natural gas drilling technique.
“The health commissioner indicated that the study will be completed by the end of the year, so that’s when the governor expects it,” said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi.
An administration official said the report would be made public by the end of December, as well.
In the Oct. 22 debate, Cuomo observed that his two principal opponents, Howie Hawkins of the Green Party and Republican Rob Astorino, were seated to his left and right — a fair approximation of their respective stances on the safety of fracking, he said.
“I say, ‘I’m not a scientist — let the scientists decide,’” Cuomo said. “It’s very complicated, it’s very controversial, people have very different opinions. Academic studies come out all different ways.”
Related: Report: Cuomo meddled with fracking study
“Let the experts decide,” he continued. “Now I’ve asked the expert commissioner of the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Conservation, ‘Give me a report — it’s due at the end of this year.’ Whatever the experts say is right; that’s what I will do. Because frankly, it’s too difficult for a layman.”
The state has been weighing the question of whether to allow fracking in the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation since Gov. David Paterson was in office.
In September 2012, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens asked then-Health Commissioner Nirav Shah to review the DEC’s work on fracking’s potential health impacts. Despite statements of imminent completion, that worked has gone on for more than two years.
Shah resigned in April without completing the assignment.
Cuomo has been harshly criticized by Astorino as being “politically paralyzed” on the issue, which continues to receive a split opinion in many polls. The drilling industry insists that hydrofracking, which uses a small amount of chemicals and a large amount of water to crack open gas-bearing shale deposits, is safe and points to booming regional economies in dozens of other states, including Pennsylvania.
Environmental groups, however, see the technique as a perilous threat to land and water.
“If Gov. Cuomo truly listens to the science, the only way he can protect the health of New Yorkers and our water is with a statewide ban on fracking,” said Isaac Silberman-Gorn of Citizen Action and New Yorkers Against Fracking.