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Avella lauds decision to allow review of fracking health effects

Protestors associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement march in protest of the natural gas drilling technique known as "fracking" in New York Sept. 16. AP Photo/Seth Wenig
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State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) lauded last Thursday’s announcement by the state Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner that he has asked the state Department of Health to conduct a review of a health impact study on the controversial drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing.

“While this decision is not the independent study that I and other environmental advocates have been calling for, it is a positive step in the right direction,” he said. “Hydrofracking is an extremely dangerous drilling practice and this issue is too important and its effects too consequential to not have any type of expert health review.”

Avella, a staunch opponent of fracking and ranking minority member of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, has argued that allowing hydrofracking in New York state, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo is considering, would pose a threat to the city’s drinking water supply.

When DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens announced the decision, he acknowledged the government review is not the type of independent assessment some people were calling for, but defended his decision not to go that route.

“I believe deferring to an outside group or entity would be an inappropriate delegation of a governmental responsibility,” DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens said in a statement. “It is the government’s responsibility to ensure objectivity and a review directed by DEC and the Department of Health is without bias.”

The DEC is conducting a four-year study on the potential environmental and health impact of hydrofracking, and Cuomo is expected to allow limited drilling in the Marcellus Shale, a large rock formation that lies under parts of New York and other states, once the study concludes.

Fracking involves injecting high volumes of water and chemicals into the ground in order to break apart shale and extract natural gas.

Martens said the DEC received approximately 80,000 comments about the study, many of them focused on the potential health impacts of fracking, and he met with numerous groups who were not satisfied with the DEC’s study and demanded an independent review.

Martens said, however, he decided not to allow such a review because he believes the chances were too high that an independent reviewer would bring in bias or conflicts of interest to the process, and he implied a government review would be more legally defensible than would an outside review.

Martens said he asked DOH Commissioner Nirav Shah to conduct the review and appoint an outside panel of experts to help advise him in the process.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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