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DEC Commissioner Martens: State health report on hydrofracking not coming any time soon


Don't expect a final, state report on the health aspects of hydrofracking any time soon, said Joe Martens, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Martens was referring to a report being compiled by state Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah, who this past summer said he was examining other studies across the country, including those being done by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Pennsylvania.

At the time, Shah said he expected the report would be finished in a "couple of weeks."

That's not happening, Martens said in an interview late last week.

"No, I have not seen it," the DEC commissioner said.

"We don't feel that there's a great urgency," he added. " People really want to be satisfied that this can be done safely and that's what Dr. Shah is trying to get to the bottom of."

Martens made the remarks following last Friday's graduation ceremony of new environmental conservation officers and forest rangers at the state Department of Environmental Conservation's Training Facility in Altmar. He also discussed the issue of state approval of liquefied natural gas stations in the state, along with his feelings about the progress being made by Honeywell in the cleanup of Onondaga Lake.

The DEC was scheduled to begin issuing regulations on hydrofracking - a deep drilling method of extracting natural gas - in February. But that deadline came and went with no final decision by Cuomo. Instead, the governor said he would wait for Shah to analyze any potential health effects of the drilling. Months later, Shah has yet to issue any report.

Meanwhile, the Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association, has filed papers in state Supreme Court demanding to see what Shah is reviewing.

A poll out today from Siena College Research Institute found voters statewide oppose hydrofracking 43 percent to 38 percent. The poll has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.4 percent.

The following are excerpts from Friday's interview with Martens:

Q: Dr. Shah's health report on hydro fracking. Where is it right now? Have you seen it?

A: No, I have not seen it and Dr. Shah is following other studies that are going on around the country. The EPA has had an ongoing study, along with the health system in Pennsylvania, whose name escapes me, which has a long-term health study. (Dr. Shah) and his staff have been in communication with several other entities that are involved with health studies now.

As for the delay, Dr. Shah thought he would have had it done in three weeks. The more he's learned about (the other studies), he's come to recognize that it's going to take time before they're completed.

Q: Is there any timeline that's been given to him by you, or the governor?

A: No, I think initially the thought was that it could be turned around fairly quickly. He was going to review what DEC did personally. Department of Health staff worked very closely with us on it. The governor asked Dr. Shah to take a look at it personally and Dr. Shah started looking at what's going on in other places around the country. So there is no deadline. I haven't talked to Dr. Shah about it in weeks, and only for an update during which he said he's following what's going on around the country.

"We don't feel that there's a great urgency. People really want to be satisfied that this can be done safely and that's what Dr. Shah is trying to get to the bottom of."

Q: We had an article in our paper the DEC's proposal to allow liquefied (natural) gas stations in this state. Some have said the DEC's approval of those is an indication that the state is obviously going to approve hydro fracking. Does one follow the other?

A: The two are totally unrelated. We are the only state in the country, I believe that does not allow these storage facilities There's a need (as requested from the industry here for its use by larger trucks, carrier vehicles) to use natural gas as a a fuel, but they can't fuel anywhere else in the state because we don't allow it. We don't allow these fueling stations to exist. Peopl are bound to be suspicious of anything having to do with natural gas and relating it to fracking. These regulations have nothing to do with fracking.

Q: Is the DEC happy with the progress being made by Honeywell as far as the cleanup of Onondaga Lake. As everything going according to plan?

A: Ken (DEC Region 7 Director Ken Lynch) keeps more current on it than I do. But I will say that based on the last report, we're satisfied with the progress. We think the progress is good. Obviously, there's been some bumps along the way, but there's bound to be bumps on a project of this scale. The dredging is proceeding very efficiently. They're doing what they agreed to do. . I toured the facility last year, just before they started the dredging project and I have to say that I was very impressed with the professional nature which they were pursuing virtually every aspect of the project, from the water treatment plant to the waste disposal facility.