Eric Weltman of Food and Water Watch speaks during a...

Eric Weltman of Food and Water Watch speaks during a "New Yorkers Against Fracking" news conference in Albany. (March 26, 2012) Credit: AP

ALBANY -- Dozens of grassroots environmental groups have joined forces to launch a coordinated campaign to ban natural gas drilling using high-volume hydraulic fracturing in New York State.

The effort launched yesterday comes as the state Department of Environmental Conservation works to complete a four-year review of whether shale gas development using the controversial technology known as "fracking" can be done safely under strict regulations.

Also yesterday, a New York State Assembly proposal for an independent health impact study of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas has been dropped during budget negotiations.

Numerous physicians and environmental groups criticized Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos for blocking the $100,000 Assembly appropriation for a health study.

Cuomo has said a decision on whether to permit fracking in New York is likely in several months.

Sandra Steingraber, a biologist and environmental writer who recently won the Heinz Award for her work on how chemical contaminants in air, water and food endanger human health, said she'll donate much of her $100,000 prize money to start the anti-fracking coalition, New Yorkers Against Fracking.

Among other things, the coalition plans to fund advertising to get its message out. A clip from the first such video will be aired Wednesday night on Comedy Central's Colbert Report, coalition member Claire Sandberg said. Actor Mark Ruffalo, an outspoken anti-fracking advocate and member of the coalition, is scheduled as a guest on the show.

The process of hydraulic fracturing injects thousands of gallons of water, chemicals and sand into deep, horizontally drilled wells at high pressure to release natural gas from shale.

The vast Marcellus Shale formation that underlies parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia is believed to hold 84 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas, enough to supply the nation's gas-burning electrical plants for 11 years. Leaders of the coalition speaking at a news conference in Albany are longtime regulars at anti-fracking rallies around the state. They include Eric Weltman of Food and Water Watch; Sandberg, founder of Frack Action and now executive director of Water Defense; Wes Gillingham of Catskill Mountainkeeper; and David Braun of United for Action.

Notably absent were representatives of mainstream environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Environmental Advocates of New York.

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