In a stunning setback for shale development in the Empire State, the New York State Assembly voted 95-40 on Wednesday to enact a two-year moratorium on high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF). The bill, A5424, now moves to the state Senate.

“Let me be crystal clear,” House Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said before Wednesday’s vote. “We are profoundly sympathetic to the needs of our struggling upstate economy. Likewise, we are sympathetic to our nation’s energy crisis and to the need to liberate ourselves from our dependence on foreign oil.

“We are not, however, going to sign off on any process, no matter how profitable, that endangers New Yorkers, threatens our environment, or diminishes the quality of life in our communities. Until we have the facts, no new permits should be issued for natural gas drilling in the Marcellus or Utica shale formations.”

A5424 calls for a school within the State University of New York (SUNY) system to conduct a comprehensive health impact assessment on HVHF, and for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to study the potential public health impacts from the practice. The SUNY school would also prepare a scoping document before the CDC performs its work. A public review and comment period would follow. HVHF permitting would be suspended until May 15, 2015.

“The moratorium on future natural gas development in Upstate New York is seriously ill-informed and ignores science and the experience in other states, and demonstrates continued disregard for farmers, landowners and small businesses in the Southern Tier,” Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York (IOGA), said Wednesday. “New York’s government could work to create progress and prosperity by expanding natural gas exploration. Instead we produce delay.

“This bill is based on the presumption that shale drilling and production operations are harmful to both the environment and to those who live in the vicinity of the wells. Given the lack of evidence to prove these claims, it is troubling that this type of legislation continues to advance.”

The bill has been referred to the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee. The New York State Assembly is controlled by the Democrats, while Republicans have a small majority in the state Senate.