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New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens, second from let, talks on hydraulic fracturing during a cabinet meeting at the Capitol on Dec. 17 in Albany, N.Y. (Mike Groll/AP)
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens, second from let, talks on hydraulic fracturing during a cabinet meeting at the Capitol on Dec. 17 in Albany, N.Y. (Mike Groll/AP)

New York State moves to prohibit fracking Add to ...

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration will move to prevent fracking in New York State, citing unresolved health issues and dubious economic benefits of the widely used gas-drilling technique.

Environmental Commissioner Joe Martens said Wednesday that he was recommending a ban, and Mr. Cuomo said he would defer to Mr. Martens and acting health commissioner Howard Zucker in making the decision.

The move is likely to buoy opponents of fracking across the United States who have previously only managed to win local bans. Industry representatives expressed disappointment but also have downplayed New York’s potential as a major source of natural gas.

The New York decision comes as the industry faces setbacks in Eastern Canada, even as hydraulic fracturing is widely used in western provinces to extract oil and gas.

In Quebec, Premier Philippe Couillard said this week his government does not favour fracking in the St. Lawrence Lowlands despite the promise of large shale gas deposit in the Utica formation. Mr. Couillard was responding to a report from the province’s office of environmental hearings, which concluded with potential health risks from shale gas development outweighed the economic benefits.

In New Brunswick, the new Liberal government of Premier Brian Gallant is set to impose a moratorium on fracking, to be in place until more research can be done on health and environmental risks.

Mr. Zucker and Mr. Martens on Wednesday summarized the findings of environmental and health reviews that concluded that shale gas development using high-volume hydraulic fracturing carried unacceptable risks that haven’t been sufficiently studied.

Mr. Martens said the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation would put out a final environmental impact statement early next year, and after that he’ll issue an order prohibiting fracking.

The gas-drilling boom in the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation underlying southern New York State, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, was made possible by fracking, or high-volume hydraulic fracturing, which releases gas from rock by injecting wells with chemically treated water at high pressure.

The drilling technique has generated tens of billions of dollars and reduced energy bills and fuel imports. But it’s also brought concerns and sparked protests over air and water pollution, earthquakes, property devaluation, heavy truck traffic and health impacts.

New York State has had a ban on shale gas development since the environmental review began in 2008.

David Spigelmyer, president of the industry group Marcellus Shale Coalition, said last week that drilling wouldn’t be likely to take off anytime soon in New York State even if restrictions were lifted because of the uncertainty around regulations and legal challenges and the huge amount of promising drilling locations that remain in fracking-friendly Pennsylvania.

The location of the rock is enticing to producers because of its proximity to major demand centres of New York City and New England, which is paying relatively more for natural gas due to delivery constraints. But the uncertainty remains too high to commit to the region.

Mr. Spigelmyer said there is a saying circulating among companies and so-called landmen who secure drilling rights in the region: “The quickest way to lose your job is to get acreage in New York.”

With a file from Globe reporter Shawn McCarthy.

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