New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration - led by a potential 2016 Democratic Party nominee for president - has announced it won't achieve the late-Feb. deadline it set on whether or not it would green light shale gas drilling, known by most as “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing).
These documents reveal that Cuomo's chief-of-staff, Larry Schwartz, has thousands of dollars in stock portfolio investments in oil and gas corporations with a financial stake in fracking proceeding in New York, a possible violation of the state's conflict-of-interest law and potentially a form of insider trading. The documents also detailed that lobbyists from these very same corporations have also had VIP meetings with Cuomo's top-level aides in the past several months, granted prime access to the Administration to influence-peddle in the run-up to the looming fracking decision.
Yesterday, citing the necessity to “let the science determine the outcome,” NY Department of Health Commisioner (DOH) Nirav Shah wrote that the DOH “will require additional time to complete based on the complexity of the issues” in a letter to NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner, Joe Martens.
Shah closed his letter by stating, “Whatever the ultimate decision on [fracking] going ahead, New Yorkers can be assured that it will be pursuant to a rigorous review that takes the time to examine the relevant health issues.”
Martens offered a brief response, concurring with Shah and writing that “the science, not emotion, will determine the outcome.”
Front-line fracktivists see the Administration's reprieve as a positive development - at least for now.
“Commissioner Shah is correct that the state needs to take the time to do a comprehensive study of the health effects of fracking to protect the public health,” said Sandra Steingraber, previously interviewed on DeSmogBlog in late-2011 about her latest book, “Raising Elijah.”
“As he notes, no comprehensive studies have been done to date and New York must do so before making a decision about fracking. We are confident that such a review will show that the costs of fracking in terms of public health are unacceptable.”
A recent webinar hosted by one of the outside peer reviewers of the delayed DOH study, though, reveals that the water here is a bit muddier than it appears on the surface.
Concerned Health Professionals of NY: DOH Review Fatally Flawed
The study both the NY DOH and DEC say they must still finish has actually been parked on Shah's desk for months, according to the reporting of Gannett's Jon Campbell.
“Three outside experts assisting New York with a health review of hydraulic fracturing say their work was completed more than a month ago,” Campbell wrote on Feb. 8.
One of those three reviewers was Richard “Dick” Jackson, University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) professor and Chair of its Department of Environmental Health Sciences.
Jackson, according to an email obtained by Campbell, told Physicians for Social Responsibility that he submitted his health review of the DOH's completed study in early December. Translation: a completed review has sat in the DOH's hands for over two months.
Jackson's hour-long Jan. 9 webinar titled, “Hydraulic Fracturing Impacts Human Health: Public Health Strategies to Reduce the Risks” offers a lens into the possible content of that review. Concerned Health Professionals of NY (CHPNY) - founded by Steingraber - concluded that this presentation is cause for concern, saying that it was “grossly inadequate and flawed.”
CHPNY says that Jackson's presentation cited antiquated studies on climate change impacts of fracking, referred to the now-discredited “frackademia” study published by Penn State University professor Timothy Considine (funded by the industry lobbying tour de force, the Marcellus Shale Coalition) as an “excellent” one. Jackson also claimed that he was “not in a position to debate” the veracity of fracking's link to water contamination claims - even though the scientific literature shows a clear linkage.
Kathleen Nolan of Catskill Mountainkeeper, Anthony Ingraffea of Cornell University (co-author of the definitive “Cornell Study” showing fracking's lifecycle climate change contribution is dirtier than coal's) and Steingraber annotated and footnoted these scientific critiques into the webinar's transcript.
Steingraber didn't mince words on what she feels are the webinar's implications.
“The cursory and poorly informed content of Jackson’s January 9, 2012 one-hour, national webinar presentation undermines the credibility of the state’s review process, as it suggests that the materials provided to Dr. Jackson were dated and poorly sourced, rather than gleaned from up-to-the-minute peer-reviewed and independent scholarly reports,” she said. “By his own account, Jackson gave the presentation…after he finished his analysis of New York State’s health review.”
In short, the Cuomo Administration has postured as if the health review is incomplete, while the reality is that it's been finished since early December.
Thus, the decision at this point comes down to a pure political calculus. This is confirmed by The New York Times' reporter Danny Hakim, who wrote, “officials who have discussed the matter with the governor have said that his hesitation is principally political, not scientific.”