Before deciding whether to allow drilling for natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, New York State might first have to conduct an independent study of the health effects of the controversial rock-busting method.
The Assembly, the lower house of New York's legislature, allocated $100,000 for such a study in a budget submitted Monday for the coming fiscal year.
A school of public health within the state's public university system would conduct the study, although to become reality it requires passage by the Assembly and state Senate and must be signed into law by New York's governor. So far, there is no companion bill in the Senate.
New York sits atop a shale rock formation that has fueled a bonanza of gas drilling in Ohio, Pennsylvania and parts of West Virginia.
The state's Department of Environmental Conservation is currently reviewing proposed rules for drilling in New York using the fracking method. The practice involves blasting millions of gallons of water and chemicals into the ground to split apart rocks containing natural gas, then pumping out the liquids to extract the fuel.
Until the agency finalizes those regulations, no permit for high-volume horizontal fracking in New York will be issued. However, officials have said it's possible the state could grant a few limited-fracking permits in coming months.
Proponents say fracking has been done for decades without harm to the environment, but as the pace of fracking has accelerated, allegations have surfaced that chemicals and hydrocarbons have contaminated drinking water. In New York, physicians, public-health officials and environmental groups have criticized the Department of Environmental Conservation for not including a comprehensive health-impact study in its review of high-volume fracking.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a study into whether fracking contaminates underground water.
The Marcellus Shale formation, which stretches into southern New York, could hold as much as 84 trillion cubic feet of gas that is undiscovered yet technically recoverable. It may also hold as much as 3.4 billion barrels of yet-undiscovered and technically recoverable natural gas liquids, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates.
Dozens of permits are pending with New York's environmental regulator. Among them is one from Norway's Norse Energy, which has been approved for seven permits and filed 22 more applications. The company has also leased 130,000 acres in New York, the Wall Street Journal reported.