Three outside experts assisting New York with a health review of hydraulic fracturing say their work was completed more than a month ago, which the state Health Department didn’t reveal during lengthy testimony before lawmakers last week or in a public statement.
UCLA professor Richard Jackson said his review was completed two months ago and has been in the hands of the state Department of Health since then, according to an email he sent to a physicians group Thursday that was obtained by Gannett’s Albany Bureau.
The Health Department last asked Lynn Goldman, dean of George Washington University’s School of Public Health, for comments on the review about six weeks ago, she wrote Friday in a separate email to Gannett. The third reviewer, John Adgate of the Colorado School of Public Health, said all three consultants finished their work at the same time.
“At New York State Department of Health’s request, I provided pro bono review of their Health Impact Assessment almost two months ago,” Jackson wrote to the executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, a Washington D.C.-based group which had written him with concerns about New York’s review.
State Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens first asked Health Commissioner Nirav Shah in September to assess the state’s review of fracking and ensure that the safety measures it recommends would protect public health. Goldman, Adgate and Jackson were tapped for assistance in November, with Goldman and Adgate under contract through next Wednesday.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation faces a Feb. 27 deadline to finalize a set of proposed rules for large-scale fracking or allow them to expire. In order to meet that deadline, the agency would have to release a final version of a lengthy environmental review—known as the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement—by Wednesday.
DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens cast doubt on whether the state would be able to make the deadline, telling lawmakers at a budget hearing Monday that it would be “difficult” to meet it if the health review recommends installing additional safety measures.
Bill Schwarz, a spokesman for the Department of Health, stressed that the outside consultants’ recommendations are part of a larger reviewing being done by Shah.
“As Dr. Shah has stated since he initiated the Public Health Review, his review includes asking outside experts to review health related components of the Environmental Impact Statement,” Schwarz said in a statement Friday. “The experts are advisers to Dr. Shah and their full analysis will be included as part of his final report.”
Last week, the Department of Health did not indicate at a lengthy budget hearing or in a separate statement that the consultants had finished their work.
“The State Health Commissioner and three external consultants are reviewing the data and information regarding potential public health impacts included in DEC’s draft (environmental impact statement),” Schwarz said on Jan. 29 when Gannett asked specifically if the experts had finished their work.
When asked the next day at a budget hearing whether his department has decided how to monitor the health impacts of fracking, Shah said: “The experts will make their recommendations in that regard, and that would establish what surveillance, if any, is needed.”
High-volume fracking—which is used to help extract gas from shale formations such as the Marcellus, which stretches across New York’s Southern Tier—has been on hold in the state since the DEC first launched its review in 2008.
In his email, Jackson went on to offer significant criticism of the hydrofracking process, urging the physicians’ group to focus its nationwide efforts on the issue. Jackson, who said he has been a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility for 35 years, did not respond to a request for comment.
“Many of the stories I hear, especially from Pennsylvania and Colorado, are appalling,” Jackson wrote of large-scale fracking. “The enormous waste of natural gas through flaring, for example in Texas and the Dakotas, puts a lie to the assertion that this is natural gas extraction—in many places fracking is done for the ‘distillate’ and the natural gas is turned immediately into CO2 pollution and dumped into the atmosphere.”