Leaked New York Department of Health Report: Hydraulic Fracturing Can Be Safely Conducted

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A previously confidential New York state agency report analyzing the human health impact of high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) operations released to a limited number of media outlets last Thursday concludes that HVHF can be performed safely under the state’s proposed regulations.

The leaked February 2012 health assessment is a supplement to the comprehensive Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS), a study commissioned by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (the DEC) in 2008. In the released analysis, the New York State Department of Health (the DOH) found that “[b]y implementing the proposed mitigation measures identified and required in this [SGEIS], the department expects that human chemical exposures during normal [HVHF] operations will be prevented or reduced below levels of significant health concern.” Those mitigation measures are addressed throughout the SGEIS and include, among others, standards for storage of chemicals on well pads, increased standards or well construction, cementing and blow-out prevention equipment, treating used drilling water similar to medical waste, and pre-disposal water testing procedures. With the proposed and existing mitigation measures in place, the report concludes, “significant adverse impacts on human health are not expected from routine [HVHF] operations.”

However, the DEC disclaimed the notion that the report represents its final position. According to a statement issued by a DEC spokeswoman: “the final SGEIS will reflect the review currently underway by [the DOH] and outside experts,” and “no conclusions should be drawn from this partial, outdated summary.”

Further action on the recently filed revised proposed regulations is on hold pending completion of the final health review. The DEC expects to complete its review by February and to issue a decision on the proposed regulations soon thereafter. If the DEC concludes that HVHF can be done safely, it will move forward with the final rulemaking process, adjusting the regulations in accordance with the SGEIS’s health and safety requirements. Our prior coverage of the proposed rules can be found here.

Despite the DEC’s warning against prematurely interpreting the report as conclusive, it is currently the only publicly available information on the state’s hydraulic fracturing safety analysis, and may foreshadow the DOH’s ultimate position. Oil and gas industry advocates agree, hailing the report in hopes that a green light on HVHF in New York will soon follow. All hydraulic fracturing operations have  been halted under an indefinite moratorium since 2010. Opponents, on the other hand, criticize the overall lack of the transparency in the DEC’s rulemaking process, and label the leaked document as an inadequate assessment of legitimate health concerns. Further press coverage of the leak can be found hereherehere and here.

We will continue to follow the developments of the final health review and its impact on the DEC’s rulemaking.