Ending years of speculation, lobbying, protesting, and hand-wringing, the Cuomo administration has reached a decision on hydraulic fracturing in New York State, announcing today that the state would finalize a six-year moratorium on the process of extracting gas from the Marcellus Shale, a massive deposit of trapped gas deep under parts of New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

"I cannot support high volume hydraulic fracturing in the great state of New York,” Howard Zucker, the acting commissioner of health, said at a cabinet meeting today. Fracking opponents have spent years trying to convince the Cuomo administration that the fracking process poses serious environmental and health risks. Advocates have argued that fracking brings jobs and can boost economically depressed rural areas. The NY Times reports:

The decision has been fraught for Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat. In June 2012, he flirted with approving a limited program in several struggling Southern Tier counties along New York’s border with Pennsylvania. But later that year, Mr. Cuomo bowed to entreaties from environmental advocates, announcing instead that his administration would start the regulatory process over by beginning a new study to evaluate the health risks.

Dozens of towns and cities across New York have passed moratoriums and bans on fracking, and in June, the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, ruled that towns could use zoning ordinances to ban fracking.

Earlier this year it was reported that the Cuomo administration tried to influence a report from the United States Geological Survey, which studied methane levels in the groundwater in south-central New York.

Cuomo had commissioned the methane groundwater study as Pennsylvania struggled to cope with public health hazards resulting from fracking, including flaming puddles and 30-foot "methane geysers." But when the report was submitted, the Cuomo camp allegedly tried to downplay some of its negative findings, leading to speculation that Cuomo would end the moratorium on fracking.

That speculation ended today. "I consider the people of the state of New York as my patients,” said Zucker. “We cannot afford to make a mistake. The potential risks are too great. In fact, they are not fully known.”

"Governor Cuomo has kept his promise to let only sound science—not pressure from powerful oil and gas companies—be his guide on fracking," says Kate Sinding, Director of the Community Fracking Defense Project and Deputy Director of the New York Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Mounting scientific evidence points to serious health risks from fracking operations. New Yorkers have made it loud and clear that we want to keep this reckless industry at bay. With this announcement, the governor has listened—and he has demonstrated both courage and national leadership on this critical issue."

Thanks, Mark Ruffalo.

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