Health Commissioner Shah stays silent on fracking review (UPDATED)


With a regulatory deadline for the state’s proposed hydrofracking regulations less than a month away, state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah is staying mum on his agency’s analysis of the potential health impacts.

Shah declined to entertain any questions about the fracking review Tuesday following a news conference touting the state’s proposals to fight sepsis. Asked four times by Gannett’s Albany Bureau to discuss the review, Shah refused.

“Today’s event is about sepsis,” Shah said. “I’d like to stay on topic.”

Both Shah’s agency and the state Department of Environmental Conservation have been heavily criticized by environmental and anti-fracking groups for not being more transparent about the health review, which is being aided by a trio of outside consultants who are providing their expertise.

In September, Shah was directed to complete a review of a health assessment completed by the DEC. But key details of the review — or a draft — have never been released, nor has it ever been revealed exactly what the three outside experts have been asked to analyze.

Tuesday marked the third time Shah has declined to discuss the review since it was first launched. In December, he said he’s “not going to talk about things in progress.”

Shah may not be able to keep silent for long, however. He’s scheduled to testify in front of a legislative budget hearing on Wednesday, where lawmakers will likely question him about hydrofracking despite the issue not being included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal.

UPDATE: Responding to a set of written questions I submitted Monday to the Department of Health, spokesman Bill Schwarz sent along this statement. The agency again declined to release the health review, while describing what exactly is under review using broad terms unlikely to satisfy its critics.

“Work on the Public Health Review continues. The State Health Commissioner and three external consultants are reviewing the data and information regarding potential public health impacts included in DEC’s draft SGEIS, as well as existing and proposed environmental and public health surveillance systems to determine if they are adequate to establish baseline health indicators and detect and measure potential public health effects. Once complete, the Review will be shared as part of the SGEIS process.”

Environmental Advocates of New York, which has been extremely critical of fracking, on Tuesday issued a list of questions they would like lawmakers to ask Shah. (You can read them after the jump.)

“The secrecy has gone on long enough,” the group wrote in a statement. “It is time for Commissioner Shah to come clean with the public, share the administration’s health study, and fully disclose the ideas and concerns of the national experts that DOH has contracted with, but who have been forbidden from public comment throughout this secretive process.”

The DEC, meanwhile, faces a Feb. 27 deadline to finalize its proposed fracking rules or allow them to expire. The agency would have to release an extensive environmental review at least 10 days prior to that, and has said it would not finalize its work until Shah’s analysis is complete.

Here are the questions Environmental Advocates want answered by Shah:

• Who completed the Department of Environmental Conservation’s study on the health impacts of fracking?

• What factors were considered in the preparation of this study?

• Why has the DOH refused to abide the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) and not share this study with those who have requested it for more than four months?

• Why is the administration opposed to an independent health study?

• Will the administration allow the public to hear from the three national experts reviewing the study?

• Will the administration agree to release the study today?

• Will the administration pledge to allow the public ample opportunity to review and comment on the findings in the study before any final decision is made?


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  1. The less Dr. Shah says and the longer DEC keeps the health impact study and the rest of the SGEIS under wraps, the more this sounds like a conspiracy of silence leading to adoption of the regulations which are unsupported by science and scientific studies as required by law. I hope I am wrong, that logic will prevail, and that the State officials will realize that the regulation process needs to start over with the regulations and related hearings and comment period coming after the SGEIS is available to the public.

  2. We the people are the ones who voted for Governor Cuomo, and the DEC and then Dr. Shah are all connected to what is suppose to be serving the public. My question, why the secrecy? Is there something to hide? And if there is something to hide from the public then it would seem that this process is NOT in the best interest of the public. Health issues have been raised in other states. The EPA is now conducting a study on the effects of HVHF. All of this mystery smells of one thing. To put through what the gas industry wants instead of protecting the public. What has our “democracy” come down to? I remember when Watergate happened, and the question the investigative reporters asked were always answered with and I quote “Just follow the money” In all the years since then, it seems to me that our government has become just that, following the money. I hope and pray I’m wrong.

  3. Good questions. I would especially like to know more about the factors considered in this study. If this research is based upon the false assumptions that the toxins in fracking fluid ( and the highly radioactive compounds in the shale itself ), will be safely contained in magical casings that will never leak, the waste will just disappear, and the air pollution will only be an issue for 499 feet, then the most important factors are not being considered.

    A thorough study is, for one, transparent and not in secret, and also takes into account the potency of chemicals and NORMs to be toxic even at tiny doses, the inevitability of gas wells leaking, the natural faults within the earth ( aggravated by the blast ), the various pathways of contamination, as well as the health effects from ingesting these chemicals via water, air, and the food chain.

    Research has been done already. More evidence emerges every day about the devastation caused by horizontal fracking. I’m having a hard time posting this comment with links, but there is ample evidence from PA, WV, TX, WY, CO of poisoned water, air, cattle, children, adults, ruined lives, and people threatened by gas companies for telling the truth.

    Some say NY should follow MD and put over a million dollars into detailed studies of fracking before sacrificing our water, air, and farmland. I say NY should lead the way to a sane and sustainable future. We should spend the $$, research, time, and energy we now spend scrutinizing documents, planning and pretending to be able to mitigate the harm of something inherently far too harmful to be “regulated” to safety, and put all that effort into energy efficient design, and the various forms of renewable energy already available to us. There is no way to do HVHF without risking significant harm to health.

  4. The DOH spokesperson says, “The State Health Commissioner and three external consultants are reviewing the data and information regarding potential public health impacts included in DEC’s draft SGEIS, as well as existing and proposed environmental and public health surveillance systems to determine if they are adequate to establish baseline health indicators and detect and measure potential public health effects.” As a resident of Broome County, I am chilled by this statement. It sounds as though the DOH is planning to treat us as lab subjects – document our health now and see what happens to us after gas drilling occurs. I and my neighbors refuse to be test subjects for DOH and DEC.