The state Department of Environmental Conservation has refused to answer any follow-up questions on a lengthy statement issued by its commissioner late Thursday, in which he called on the state’s top health official and outside experts to assess part of the New York’s review of hydrofracking.
DEC spokeswoman Lisa King declined comment Friday afternoon after agency officials did not return phone calls Thursday night.
Just before 5 p.m. Thursday, Commissioner Joseph Martens announced that state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah and outside experts would review a “health impact analysis” of hydrofracking by the DEC after dozens of environmental and medical groups had called for an independent health review. Martens, however, said the state would not farm the work out to a non-governmental group, as many groups had demanded.
The statement, however, left many questions unanswered. Specifically, it did not signal how long the Health Department review may take, whether the DEC has already launched or completed its own “health impact analysis,” and whether the DEC is still committed to making a final hydrofracking decision by the end of the year.
Reached Friday afternoon, a Department of Health spokesman said the cooperative effort outlined Thursday is in “the initial planning stages” and “as part of that effort, we’ll identify the time frames that will go into this assessment.”
Martens did say that a final determination on whether to green light high-volume hydrofracking would wait until the Health Department’s review is complete.
The state first launched its overarching hydrofracking review — known as the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement — more than four years ago, in July 2008. At various times, DEC officials have signaled that review would be completed within months — dating back to as far as 2010 — but have more recently declined to put any sort of specific time table on it.
Also left unanswered are questions surrounding a portion of Martens’ statement in which he said “deferring (a health impact analysis) to an outside group or entity would be an inappropriate delegation of a governmental responsibility.”
“To suggest private interests or academic experts bring more independence to the process than government is exactly wrong,” Martens said in the statement. “Many experts in this field have an opinion – pro or con- which could influence the process.”
But when it came to detailing the potential economic benefits of gas drilling and hydrofracking, the DEC did reach outside of state government, tapping Buffalo-area consultants Ecology & Environment to author a study that found allowing high-volume hydrofracking would create anywhere from 4,408 to 17,634 full-time jobs over 30 years. Environmental and good-government groups were critical of the DEC’s selection of the consultants, which had clients that included oil and gas companies.
Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY, was critical of Martens’ dismissal of outside groups.
“Use of such experts shouldn’t be summarily rejected as part of a pre-litigation strategy,” she said in a statement. “What might seem to be most desireable for a court of law may not be acceptable in the court of public opinion.”