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New York environmental commissioner will prohibit fracking in state

Marie Cusick
Innovation Trail
Rig workers on a natural gas drilling well in Pennsylvania. (file photo)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration will prohibit hydrofracking in New York state, citing unresolved health issues and dubious economic benefits of the widely used gas-drilling technique.

Environmental Commissioner Joe Martens said at a cabinet meeting this morning that he was recommending a ban. Cuomo had repeatedly said he would defer to Martens and acting health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker in making the decision.

Zucker and Martens summarized the findings of their long-awaited environmental and health reviews in front of reporters at the meeting. They concluded that shale gas development using high-volume hydraulic fracturing carries what they called unacceptable risks that haven't been sufficiently studied.

"Until the public health red flags are answered by valid evidence," Zucker said, "I cannot support high-volume, hydraulic fracturing in the great state of New York.

"We don't have definitive evidence to prove or disprove the claims of health effects," he added. "The science isn't there."

Martens said the Department of Environmental Conservation will put out a final environmental impact statement early next year, and after that he'll issue an order prohibiting fracking.

The development of fracking wells involves "unique, unresolved environmental risks," he said.

Martens acknowledged how the gas industry has changed since the department first began studying the method years ago. The DEC received 260,000 public comments.

"The economic benefits are clearly far lower than originally forecast," Martens said.

New York has had a ban on shale gas development since the environmental review began in 2008. Proponents say drilling could bring jobs and cash to a region of upstate New York -- the Southern Tier -- that has long struggled.

Environmentalists, though, raised concerns over water contamination and air pollution and they staunchly fought the permitting of drilling in the state. 

The issue also divided neighbors and communities, pitting them in legal battles over proposed - and eventually upheld - local bans.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.