Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's administration has pushed the reset button on its long study of whether New York can safely allow use of the controversial drilling technique called fracking, to break loose natural gas from upstate shale deposits. It's a prudent pause, but with some caveats.
There's little question that a study of potential health impacts is necessary, but the quality of that study is crucial. Though the state Health Department is running it, the agency must consult closely with genuinely independent experts from outside New York's political loop, to buttress the credibility of the ultimate finding on the fractious fracking issue.
This highly charged debate has brought relentless pressure on Cuomo. Environmental groups are pushing him constantly to block the drilling method called high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing. Their concerns include the huge amounts of water it uses, the contaminated wastewater it produces, the potential impacts on drinking water, and others. Many municipalities have acted to block fracking, but the question of whether they have the legal power to do that is still in the courts.
On the other side, many upstate property owners are desperate for the income they'd get from leasing their land to drilling companies -- and those companies want the process to go forward.
But natural gas prices are so low right now that it may not be worth their while yet to invest in New York, when they're already fracking in other states. So a delay of a few months is reasonable.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation had compiled 80,000 comments on its revised environmental impact statement on fracking. Now the health study. Environmental groups wanted an outside institution to do it, but the state settled on the Health Department.
That study must be thorough, impeccably scientific and impartial, and not drag on indefinitely. And the public must have a chance to comment on it. Someday, Cuomo will have to decide about fracking. This study must be good enough to help him get it right.