Scientific findings—and a lack of them—played a starring role in a controversial decision earlier this week by Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to essentially ban the natural gas extraction technique known as fracking in the Empire State.
The 17 December decision rested heavily on a state health department report that reviewed dozens of studies of the potential human health impacts of oil and gas development and found cause for concern. “I looked at this process with the same critical eye I always use in medicine,” said Howard Zucker, a physician and New York’s acting health commissioner, at a Cabinet meeting that covered the issue. During the discussions, Zucker displayed numerous scientific papers that he said highlighted how multiple facets of shale gas production, including drilling, trucking, and wastewater disposal, could potentially harm human health. He also lamented a lack of data on some risks. Precaution was the best course, Zucker suggested in recommending a hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, ban.
Cuomo said he was only heeding expert advice in making the move, which makes permanent a temporary fracking moratorium the state has had in place since 2008. “I’m not a doctor, I’m not an environmentalist, I’m not a scientist,” he said. “So let’s bring the emotion down, and let’s ask the qualified experts what their opinion is.”
Not surprisingly, the decision is drawing divided reaction.