dr marten boot a political decision draped in science Editorial
Since 2008, when hydrofracking became a matter of public debate in New York, we have counseled a patient, responsible, balanced and science based approach to the controversial method of extracting natural gas from shale rock.
“Let the science decide” was the mantra from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as the opposition movement grew stronger and the politics of a decision grew more complicated.
To no one’s surprise, science can’t decide at least not yet. So New York’s Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker is recommending a ban on fracking in New York until more studies are done to determine its long term effects on public health.
Don’t be fooled by the veneer of science. The fracking ban was a political calculation, made possible by Cuomo’s re election and public opinion polls that now tilt against it.
In his report, Zucker states that “a guarantee of absolute safety is not required” in order to let hydrofracking proceed. He acknowledges that “absolute scientific certainty” about the safety of such a complex activity as high volume hydraulic fracturing is unlikely ever to be achieved. What we do know is sufficiently disturbing to warrant the ban, Zucker decided.
It is a subjective judgment. The state of Maryland assessed the same body of research and came to the opposite conclusion.
The fracking ban lets New York off the hook in several respects.
By deciding the risks of fracking are too great, the state never gets around to balancing them against any potential rewards.
We are not blind to the environmental toll fracking has taken in states that pursued shale gas riches without proper regulation or oversight. Could New York have done better?
Could it have asked “Is there a way to do this right?” Instead, it appears to have approached it from the opposite bias it can never be done right.
In accepting Zucker’s recommendation, state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens noted the reduced profitability of fracking, now that about 60 percent of the state’s land has been taken off the table through strict regulation and local moratoriums. Others have noted the falling price of natural gas as a reason not to pursue natural gas exploration. Those factors are for the market to decide, not the government.
Meanwhile, the fracking ban sentences residents and landowners in the Southern Tier to a future of economic despair. New Yorkers can see prosperity across the state line in Pennsylvania, but all they can taste is the commerce that dribbles over the border.
Our state is staggering under heavy taxes, living off of one time windfalls from Wall Street settlements and pinning its hopes for an economic resurgence on casino gambling. Could fracking have been a game changer? We’ll never know.