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Citing Health, Environment Concerns, New York Moves To Ban Fracking

Officials in New York said on Wednesday that the state will ban hydraulic fracturing there. The move follows years of efforts by environmentalists, who have called on the state to ban the practice.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The state of New York has banned fracking. After six years of study, the state says there are too many health and environmental questions involved in the controversial drilling method. NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Fracking is among the technologies that reinvigorated the oil and gas business in the U.S. in recent years. But fracking also launched a movement of activists concerned about how this intensive form of drilling affects people and the environment. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo acknowledged the contentious debate over fracking at a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, saying he's not qualified to decide the issue.

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GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO: I'm a lawyer. I'm not a doctor. I'm not an environmentalist. I'm not a scientist. So let's bring the emotion down, and let's ask the qualified experts what their opinion is.

BRADY: Cuomo deferred to his environmental and health commissioners, who are recommending a ban on fracking. Acting Commissioner of Health Howard Zucker says there is not enough scientific data yet to say with certainty that fracking is safe. And he says there are red flags raised in some studies on air and water pollution. Zucker says there's also a big gap in data about how drilling and fracking affects soil.

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HOWARD ZUCKER: There are no relevant studies looking at soil contamination and human health effects. And yet, we grow our fruits and vegetables in that soil. Our cows graze on the grass in that soil, and way closer to our home, our children play there as well.

BRADY: Zucker says he asked himself if he would want to live in a community with fracking.

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ZUCKER: After looking at the plethora of reports, as you see behind me and others that I have in my office, my answer is no.

BRADY: But about 150 miles southwest of New York's capital, there are landowners who do want to live in a community with fracking.

BRADY: Marchie Diffendorf is walking through the snow on his property. Diffendorf is chairman of the Kirkwood Gas Coalition.

MARCHIE DIFFENDORF: Over there, where you see that red light flashing, that is Pennsylvania. And those people are thriving.

BRADY: Three miles away, across the border, a drilling boom has made some landowners a lot of money. Diffendorf says he'd be close to a millionaire if fracking we're allowed in New York.

DIFFENDORF: You know, it's just - infuriates me that it is a proven safe technology and the governor is turning his back on us.

BRADY: Diffendorf says his group hasn't decided how to respond to the new ban on fracking. Karen Moreau at the New York State Petroleum Council predicts legal battles ahead.

KAREN MOREAU: I mean, I think there will be landowners that have lost their property rights that will be looking at suing the state.

BRADY: There are those who are thrilled with the ban - activists who oppose fracking. Julia Walsh with Frack Action says next month's planned demonstration in Albany will turn into a celebration.

JULIA WALSH: We're going to have a big thank you sign to our governor for protecting our lives and the health and safety of New Yorkers over the special interest of oil and gas industry.

BRADY: Environmental groups now hope New York's ban on fracking will spread to other states. Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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