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The fracking science is not in

Monday, April 01, 2013 - Updated: 4:11 PM

Whether you feel that natural gas fracking is the economic salvation of New York or an environmental disaster waiting to happen, there is one indisputable fact about it: The science is not in. Not by a long shot. And that's why a moratorium in New York makes sense.

State leaders who have vowed to let science guide their decision on whether to allow high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing could show they mean what they say by declaring that the idea is off the table at least until some serious study is done.

While the industry's persistent public relations campaign has portrayed fracking as clean and safe, we simply don't know if that's true. At least five studies are under way or being considered on fracking as scientists and health researchers seek answers.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to release findings next year on a study of the potential effect of fracking on drinking water.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Johns Hopkins and the University of North Carolina recently announced another study, and Harvard's Center for Health and the Global Environment is planning one, too. New York's Department of Health is doing its own health review while the state holds off finalizing an environmental impact statement and new drilling regulations.

Another recently announced study is already instructive: Geisinger Health System, which operates hospitals, clinics and an insurance program in 44 Pennsylvania counties, plans a 20-year study that will look for possible links between fracking and illnesses among its 2.6 million clients.

In effect, then, fracking is the experiment, and the people of Pennsylvania are the laboratory mice.

It's essential to have more objective information on fracking. The industry has too often taken liberties with the facts. It long asserted, for instance, that drilling has never damaged water supplies. When that turned out to be untrue, it sought to downplay the damage.

And still we don't know how many incidents were covered up by generous payments and confidentiality agreements. As recently as the week before last, a private settlement came to light in which a family outside Pittsburgh was paid $750,000 after their water was contaminated.

The latest Quinnipiac poll found New Yorkers are less and less enamored with fracking. The industry blames Gov. Andrew Cuomo for not showing leadership -- that is, bending to its will -- while Cuomo faults the industry for not making its case.

Or perhaps the people of New York realize that science isn't a slick TV ad nor a politician simply saying something is so. Perhaps they've looked at the body of evidence and found it too thin for comfort.

And perhaps they're finally saying what the state of New York ought to be saying: "Safe? Prove it. We can wait."

-- The Times Union of Albany


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