New York is banning the drilling for natural gas using hydraulic fracturing.
Growing evidence about the risks posed by the process make it the right decision.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo always promised that he would let science determine New York's future course when it comes to fracking.
In announcing Wednesday the state will formally ban high volume hydraulic fracturing, the controversial process of pumping water, sand and chemicals deep into the ground to release and extract natural gas, the governor delivered on that promise.
In that, Mr. Cuomo deferred to the recommendation of his acting health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, who released a 176-page, two-year health study that found widespread fracking will likely contaminate the state's air and water and pose significant health risks to residents of the communities around the drilling sites.
Dr. Zucker's compelling conclusion, in which he posed the question of whether he would raise his family near a drilling site, put it best: "After looking at the plethora of reports behind me ... my answer is no."
In banning fracking, New York goes against the trend in which a growing number of states are attempting to cash in on a natural gas boom. But that very boom provided state Health Department researchers the abundant and ever-expanding foundation of data that led to their overwhelming conclusion. States where fracking has been under way are experiencing myriad problems with methane, benzene and other volatile organic compounds polluting the groundwater and air. Data also link the gas drilling process with earthquakes.
In 2009, when New York land owners and developers were urging at least limited fracking to tap the gas-rich Marcellus shale formation, only six peer-reviewed studies on the environmental health impact of the hydraulic drilling process were available. Today, 154 such reports have been completed, examining various types of drilling operations in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas and elsewhere, according to Physicians, Scientists & Engineers for Health Energy, a New York-based group opposed to hydrofracking. Long-term studies also are under way, which the group believes will reveal cancer and respiratory problems for residents of the communities where there is gas drilling.
Skeptics may say Gov. Cuomo's decision was politically easy, coming during an oil glut that has reduced demand for natural gas. But by instituting an outright ban on fracking, the Democratic governor is already taking political hits from the drilling industry and many Republicans, particularly in the financially pressed Southern Tier and Western New York. Even there, however, fracking's wisdom is disputed by many.
Now the governor and his staff must follow through on his pledge to find alternative and safer economic development opportunities for those areas, which have been struggling for decades.
Scientific research will continue on fracking, and surely technological improvements will, as well. There might come a time when the process is safe enough for some use in New York. But the science today is clear: that time isn't now.