On December 17, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) office announced that it was banning hydraulic fracturing in New York because of health concerns, following the issuance of a long-awaited public health review of hydraulic fracturing by the state’s Department of Health (see our previous coverage here). The decision of whether to allow hydraulic fracturing had become a divisive public policy issue in the state. Use of hydraulic fracturing as a stimulation technique has surged in states like Pennsylvania and Texas, which have seen none of the dire consequences promised by environmental extremists. Alarmed by the increase in its successful use, and threatened by states’ successful regulation of the procedure, environmental activists tried to hold the line against hydraulic fracturing in New York.

Notwithstanding his image as a swift and decisive leader on other controversial issues, Gov. Cuomo has repeatedly delayed making a decision on whether to permit hydraulic fracturing by deferring until the completion of reviews by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Department of Health (DOH). The process has dragged on for over six years following the issuance by then-Gov. David Paterson of a temporary moratorium in July 2008 dependent on the issuance by the DEC of the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS).

The DEC issued its first draft of the SGEIS in September 2009, which recommended allowing high-volume hydraulic fracturing with a series of safeguards. Gov. Paterson ordered a second draft, which was issued in July 2011, and once again recommended allowing hydraulic fracturing to move forward, but advocated a ban on drilling within New York City’s watershed. DEC Commissioner Joe Martens asked the state health commissioner, Nirav Shah, to assess the DEC report and ensure its recommendations protect human health. The deadline for the DOH report, originally in November 2012, was extended numerous times, which caused the DEC to miss a deadline to propose hydraulic fracturing rules in February 2013. Facing widespread criticism for the delay in his agency’s review, Shah resigned as health commissioner in April 2014. Gov. Cuomo, in a surprise move, promised a decision before the end of 2014, following the November election.