Although the New York State Department of Health (DOH) said it needs a few more weeks to complete a health impact analysis of high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF), Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens said it would not cause undue delay to start processing drilling permit applications.

In a letter Feb. 12 to Martens, DOH Commissioner Nirav Shah said the results from three competing studies, only one of which has been published, will be considered in advance of his team completing their own analysis, which Martens had requested last September (see NGI, Sept. 24, 2012).

The published report is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) interim update on the potential risks of HVHF on public drinking water, which came out in December (see NGI, Dec. 24, 2012). The others are a report by Guthrie Health and Geisinger Health System on the health effects of Marcellus Shale development (see NGI, Aug. 27, 2012), and a recently announced HVHF study by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, with collaboration from scientists at Columbia, Johns Hopkins and the University of North Carolina.

“I anticipate delivering the completed Public Health Review to you within a few weeks, along with my recommendations,” Shah said.

But despite the delay — and the increasing likelihood that the DEC will miss a Feb. 27 deadline to complete its supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS) on HVHF — Martens said in a separate statement that, in his opinion, permitting could still move forward. Missing the deadline could mean another round of comments for the SGEIS would be required, but it does not appear that will slow permit action.

“The previously proposed HVHF regulations cannot be finalized until the SGEIS is complete,” Martens said. “However, this does not mean that the issuance of permits for HVHF would be delayed. If the DOH Public Health Review finds that the SGEIS has adequately addressed health concerns, and I adopt the SGEIS on that basis, DEC can accept and process HVHF permit applications 10 days after issuance of the SGEIS. The regulations simply codify the program requirements.

“If, on the other hand, the DOH review finds that there is a public health concern that has not been assessed in the SGEIS or properly mitigated, we would not proceed, as I have stated in the past. In either event, the science, not emotion, will determine the outcome.”

Preliminary results from the Guthrie/Geisinger study may be released this year, but other results won’t be available for up to 15 years. Meanwhile final conclusions for the EPA report won’t be issued until 2014, after a public comment period.

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