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Business groups react to New York's fracking ban

New York state regulators say they plan to ban hydraulic fracturing, the controversial natural gas drilling technique, because of insufficient data about potential health and environmental risk.

The decision essentially extends indefinitely an existing moratorium on the technique, also called fracking. Business groups and some lawmakers in communities affected most directly say the ban is unnecessarily costing New York thousands of jobs and millions of dollars while many other states reap benefits from fracking.

Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens outlined the need for further studies to more clearly determine the potential negative effects of fracking.

The timetable remains unclear for future action, with Zucker saying studies underway to determine fracking's risk to public health could take several years.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he deferred the decision on fracking to the two commissioners because he is not an expert.

Meanwhile, The Business Council of New York State, a trade group representing almost 2,500 private-sector companies in New York, released a statement from its president and CEO Heather Briccetti criticizing state regulators for the decision to reject fracking.

"The Business Council of New York State, Inc., is troubled that today New York embraces half-truths and fear while ignoring the economic and environmental benefits being experienced across the United States resulting from expanded domestic natural gas production," Briccetti said. "The impact of this missed opportunity will be long-lasting."

During the past six years, New York state has been a battleground for debate over the drilling technique, commonly referred to as fracking.

New York lawmakers have been considering allowing fracking in the state during that period. They have faced pressure from some businesses and landowners to permit the process, which is allowed in many other states and providing them with an economic boost.

A major part of the discussion has hinged on opponents' concerns about the process potentially harming drinking water, air and public infrastructure. Fracking companies sought to tap into gas-rich deposits in New York's share of the Marcellus Shale, a formation that runs beneath millions of acres of land in Pennsylvania, New York and other neighboring states.

Here is an Albany Business Review cover story about the debate leading up to the decision today.

Here is the 176-page report detailing the state Department of Health's concerns about potential public health risk tied to fracking released today.

"I have considered all of the data and find significant questions and risks to public health which as of yet are unanswered," Zucker said.

Martens is expected to issue a final DEC report next year prohibiting fracking in New York, though he didn't say when and how the decision could be raised again in the future.

"The prospects for (high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking) development in New York are uncertain at best," Martens said. He said factors behind that uncertainty include potential health risks and local bans in Southern Tier communities sitting above the Marcellus Shale.

Addressing reporters' questions, Cuomo said he expected "a ton of lawsuits" as a result of any decision in such an emotional debate.

API New York State Petroleum Council, a trade group representing 625 members from the oil and natural gas industry, issued a response to the decision from its Executive Director Karen Moreau.

"Today's action by Governor Cuomo shows that New York families, teachers, roads and good-paying jobs have lost out to political gamesmanship," Moreau said. "Robust regulations exist at the federal and state levels nationwide for natural gas development and environmental protection."

Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy, echoed Moreau's comments in a response to New York's fracking ban.

"Governor Cuomo's decision is directly at odds with findings from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Interior and Energy, the White House, and numerous governors and federal officials from both parties," Harbert said. "America's shale revolution has already safely created more than 2 million jobs and will continue to drive our economy for years to come."