Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Saturday that he will delay allowing hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in New York, at least until the results of a forthcoming health study are released. The news was received with joy by many environmentalists, who see it as a way of warding off the gas industry’s demands—if only for a short time.
Cuomo, who was urged by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an active fracking critic, to reconsider allowing 40 ‘test wells’ to be drilled—a move that many said was the closest the governor had ever come to approving the gas drilling technique in New York.
“I think the issue suddenly got simple for him,” Kennedy told the AP. “‘If it’s causing health problems, I really don’t want it in New York state. And if it’s not causing health problems, we should figure out a way we can do it.'”
The issue has been hotly debated in the state for the past five years. While proponents cite the thousands of jobs and economic boost that the industry will bring, environmentalists argue that the process harms local drinking water supplies. Fracking involves shooting high-pressure streams of water, sand, and toxic chemicals into the ground to get at natural gas pockets 8,000 feet below the surface, and these chemicals have the potential to leak and contaminate nearby groundwater. Fracking activist and filmmaker Josh Fox notoriously documented this phenomenon when he filmed a Pennsylvania man’s tap water catch on fire in this bizarre scene.
The announcement comes as a small victory for environmentalists, who argue that fracking has already caused environmental problems in Pennsylvania, where the industry has spread rapidly. Gov. Cuomo, however, says that he is waiting for the results of a $1 million study conducted by Geisinger Health System—a study that activists and gas industry representatives have been highly anticipating. While the governor has remained tight-lipped on the subject, it’s likely that the study will push back his decision at least a year.
Kennedy, however, claims that Gov. Cuomo wants to take all measures possible to ensure that the process is really safe. For years, the Democrat has claimed that “science, not politics” will decide in the end.
“What’s interesting is Andrew is trying to figure this out,” Kennedy said. “It’s interesting to see this … that usually doesn’t happen. (Most governors) take a poll, or they take industry money and just do it … but I think this is the harder route.”