ALBANY, N.Y. - Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration will move to prevent fracking in the state, citing unresolved health issues and dubious economic benefits of the widely used gas-drilling technique.
Environmental Commissioner Joe Martens said Wednesday that he was recommending a ban. Cuomo said he would defer to Martens and acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker in making the decision.
The move is likely to buoy foes of fracking nationally who have previously managed to win only local bans.
About 30 anti-fracking activists cheered the decision at a rally outside Cuomo's New York City office, chanting, "Thank you, Governor Cuomo, for saving our air!"
Industry representatives expressed disappointment but also have downplayed New York's potential as a major source of natural gas.
Zucker and Martens on Wednesday summarized the findings of environmental and health reviews that concluded that shale gas development using high-volume hydraulic fracturing carried unacceptable risks that haven't been sufficiently studied.
Martens said that the Department of Environmental Conservation would put out a final environmental impact statement early next year, and after that he would issue an order prohibiting fracking.
The drilling boom in the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation under southern New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, was made possible by fracking, or high-volume hydraulic fracturing, which releases gas from rock by injecting wells with chemically treated water at high pressure.
The drilling technique has generated tens of billions of dollars and reduced energy bills and fuel imports. But it also has brought concerns and sparked protests over air and water pollution, earthquakes, property devaluation, heavy truck traffic, and health impacts.
New York has had a ban on shale gas development since the environmental review began in 2008.
Zucker said he had identified "significant public health risks" and "red flag" health issues that require long-term studies before fracking can be called safe. He likened fracking to secondhand smoke, which wasn't fully understood as a health risk until many years of scientific study had been done.
Martens noted the low price of natural gas, the high local cost of industry oversight, and the large areas that would be off-limits to shale gas development because of setback requirements, water supply protections, and local prohibitions. He said those factors combine to make fracking less economically beneficial than had been anticipated.
David Spigelmyer, president of the industry group Marcellus Shale Coalition, said last week that drilling wouldn't be likely to take off anytime soon in New York even if restrictions were lifted because of the uncertainty around regulations and legal challenges and the huge amount of promising drilling locations that remain in fracking-friendly Pennsylvania.
Zucker said the decision came down to one question: Would he want to live in an area that allows fracking?
"My answer is no."
Cuomo referred to Wednesday's presentation by his agency chiefs as "very factual," but said he's anticipating lawsuits "every which way from Sunday."