Fracking will soon be banned in New York state, thanks to a drive by Andrew Cuomo, governor of the Empire State.
The move prohibiting the controversial natural gas drilling technique was undertaken over concerns of contamination of groundwater and air, the state government contends.
New York has been considering the risks of fracking for five years. A de facto ban against the practice, also called horizontal hydraulic fracturing, has existed in the state since that time.
Fracking involves pushing water and chemicals underground, in order to extract deposits of natural gas and other petroleum products which cannot be collected through traditional drilling methods. Environmentalists charge fracking is responsible for contamination of water supplies and other health issues in areas surrounding wells where the procedure takes place.
Cuomo made the announcement at a time when gas and oil prices are falling, in part due to increased production by the United States and Saudi Arabia. The governor initiated a new study of health risks from fracking in June 2012, but findings were not announced until Wednesday, Dec. 17. This long study period frustrated many environmental activists, who hoped for an earlier result.
"I cannot support high volume hydraulic fracturing in the great state of New York," Howard Zucker, acting Health Commissioner in New York, said, pointing to the "significant health risks" the report found.
Several cities, towns and localities in New York have already banned fracking through the use of local ordinances.
Cuomo has been regularly greeted by protesters calling for a ban on fracking at his public events. During his re-election campaign earlier this year, the incumbent governor staked out a position opposed to fracking, while his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, supported the practice. Cuomo won the election with 54 percent of the popular vote.
The Marcellus Formation, a massive formation of marine sedimentary rock, holds shale deposits that are rich in gas. Tapping into the Marcellus Shale, found in New York state, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, can best be accomplished through the use of fracking, some advocates of the practice believe. Pennsylvania, which in 2012 was the fourth-largest coal-producing state in the nation, is friendlier to fracking practices than New York.
"The millions of gallons of water used in fracking operations not only strain water resources, but end up as vast amounts of contaminated wastewater. Fracking has been reported as a suspect in polluted drinking water around the country. And methane, a potent climate change pollutant, leaks rampantly throughout the extraction, processing, and distribution of oil and gas," the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote.
In addition to potential health issues, critics of fracking believe the practice also contributes to heavy traffic in the region, lower property values and earthquakes.