Health experts made fracking recommendations weeks ago

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Three outside experts assisting New York with a health review of hydraulic fracturing say their work was completed more than a month ago, which the state Health Department didn’t reveal during lengthy testimony before lawmakers last week or in a public statement.

UCLA professor Richard Jackson said his review was completed two months ago and has been in the hands of the state Department of Health since then, according to an email he sent to a physicians group Thursday that was obtained by Gannett’s Albany Bureau.

The Health Department last asked Lynn Goldman, dean of George Washington University’s School of Public Health, for comments on the review about six weeks ago, she wrote Friday in a separate email to Gannett. The third reviewer, John Adgate of the Colorado School of Public Health, said all three consultants finished their work at the same time.

“At New York State Department of Health’s request, I provided pro bono review of their Health Impact Assessment almost two months ago,” Jackson wrote to the executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, a Washington D.C.-based group which had written him with concerns about New York’s review.

State Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens first asked Health Commissioner Nirav Shah in September to assess the state’s review of fracking and ensure that the safety measures it recommends would protect public health. Goldman, Adgate and Jackson were tapped for assistance in November, with Goldman and Adgate under contract through next Wednesday.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation faces a Feb. 27 deadline to finalize a set of proposed rules for large-scale fracking or allow them to expire. In order to meet that deadline, the agency would have to release a final version of a lengthy environmental review — known as the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement — by Wednesday.

DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens cast doubt on whether the state would be able to make the deadline, telling lawmakers at a budget hearing Monday that it would be “difficult” to meet it if the health review recommends installing additional safety measures.

Bill Schwarz, a spokesman for the Department of Health, stressed that the outside consultants’ recommendations are part of a larger reviewing being done by Shah.

“As Dr. Shah has stated since he initiated the Public Health Review, his review includes asking outside experts to review health related components of the Environmental Impact Statement,” Schwarz said in a statement Friday. “The experts are advisers to Dr. Shah and their full analysis will be included as part of his final report.”

Last week, the Department of Health did not indicate at a lengthy budget hearing or in a separate statement that the consultants had finished their work.

“The State Health Commissioner and three external consultants are reviewing the data and information regarding potential public health impacts included in DEC’s draft (environmental impact statement),” Schwarz said on Jan. 29 when Gannett asked specifically if the experts had finished their work.

When asked the next day at a budget hearing whether his department has decided how to monitor the health impacts of fracking, Shah said: “The experts will make their recommendations in that regard, and that would establish what surveillance, if any, is needed.”

High-volume fracking — which is used to help extract gas from shale formations such as the Marcellus, which stretches across New York’s Southern Tier — has been on hold in the state since the DEC first launched its review in 2008.

In his email, Jackson went on to offer significant criticism of the hydrofracking process, urging the physicians’ group to focus its nationwide efforts on the issue. Jackson, who said he has been a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility for 35 years, did not respond to a request for comment.

“Many of the stories I hear, especially from Pennsylvania and Colorado, are appalling,” Jackson wrote of large-scale fracking. “The enormous waste of natural gas through flaring, for example in Texas and the Dakotas, puts a lie to the assertion that this is natural gas extraction — in many places fracking is done for the ‘distillate’ and the natural gas is turned immediately into CO2 pollution and dumped into the atmosphere.”

(AP Photo)

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14 Comments

  1. “Shah said: “The experts will make their recommendations in that regard, and that would establish what surveillance, if any, is needed.” Dr Shah: spills don’t need surveillance – they need to be avoided in the first place!

    After sitting through DEC testimony hearings, this news is really hard to bear. When on Earth will the inconsistencies and hidden agendas stop? When are we going to be able to read and evaluate the health review that are going to affect our lives directly? When will we get a true Health Impact Assessment? When do we get real answers?

    There has been enough muddled legalese in this whole process to shut it all down and say: stop! No high volume hydraulic fracturing gas fields in NY! There is no safety or sanity in fracking with all of the environmental and health risks it brings. Using up NY fresh water supplies for toxic industry is wrong. Shipping toxic material to “somebody else’s” backyard is wrong. Destruction of ecosystems is wrong.

    There just isn’t any “right” about the oil/gas industry push.

  2. A lot of people including the 65 Senators and Assemblymen who wrote an excellent letter were not happy with Mr. Martens’ testimony. Now we find that Martens at DEC and and Dr. Shah at DOH have been much less than candid with all of us. The secrecy that started in the fall when we found out that DEC had done some kind of belated health impact review continued through the premature release and opening and closing of the comment period on the regulations without anyone being able to see the current SGEIS version with the so called health impact study included. Of course, this made the process backwards since the regulations are supposed to be based on a final SGEIS which should have been unveiled well before the regulation comment period.

    Do Gov. Cuomo think that we will all be fooled with these subterfuges? Does Mr. Martens believe that DEC can finalize the regulations by February 27 and make us believe that those 204,000 comments they received by January 11 have all been adequately reviewed and responded to. Do both of them think that they can get away with regulations with little back up with scientific information and studies which are required to support the rules?

  3. The irrational backwards process of releasing the proposed regulations before the SGEIS, the lack of scientific background for any of the regulations, the bizarre focus of Dr. Shah on a word and his admittance that he is not an expert on fracking (and doesn’t seem to think he should have tried to make himself one while he was charged with this important task) and the utter insanity of the news that the three experts reviewing the health impacts of fracking were done with their work two months ago; this list of completely unprofessional procedure by the NYS agencies charged with protecting NYS citizens makes one wonder if we citizens are being considered morons.

    This is all reason enough for us to demand that fracking be banned outright. Now.

  4. It disturbs me very much when I read “When asked the next day at a budget hearing whether his department has decided how to monitor the health impacts of fracking, Shah said: “The experts will make their recommendations in that regard, and that would establish what surveillance, if any, is needed.”
    How does Dr. Shah explain how “surveillance” would be done? Does he propose to dig an adjacent tube with a camera up to a mile underground and off to whatever side the gas companies decide for another mile to monitor the casings etc. “if necessary?” What is he talking about? This can’t be done And why has the Health review come down to only 4 people. The entire state of NY will have recommendations from just these four people? This is a travesty. Why aren’t doctor’s groups involved with this since they will be the group that will have to handle the health issues? Where did these “experts” get the “data” from in the first place? Because from what I’ve read of the SGEIS, there is no , I repeat NO SCIENTIFIC DATA to back up these so called “regulations” We are being duped by the secrecy behind the DOH and the DEC. Governor where is the “science” you emphatically stated would be used to make your decision???? Show us the science.

  5. Well placed retort. And yes i know it’s spellt throw. And yeah that’s a good idea, censor anyone not on the bann-wagon…

  6. State DEC has shown to be a politically controlled entity with all this secrecy and phony pronouncements.
    More evidence that NYS govt is not by any stretch of the imagination a democratically representative govt and is truly controlled by 3 men in a room and a governor who has too much power and authority

  7. It’s disturbing that this process is so totally lacking in transparency. Even the Legislature is not getting straight answers from DEC or DOH.

  8. How can potential health impacts be determined or reviewed when industry refuses to reveal the chemical makeup of the fracking fluids? How could the health impacts be different enough to require a ban in one area (NYC watershed) but not another (the rest of New York state). And how was this determined BEFORE a health review was even done?

  9. Many comments are discussing this red-flag quote:

    “When asked the next day at a budget hearing whether his department has decided how to monitor the health impacts of fracking, Shah said: “The experts will make their recommendations in that regard, and that would establish what surveillance, if any, is needed.””

    Unless the words “will” and “is needed” are mistakes, Shah is revealing that he assumes approval is a done deal. If experts are recommending “what surveillance, if any, is needed,” that says, yep, we’re doing it and we just have to figure out if they’re going to make us monitor it.

    The process is a travesty.