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Health official: Still no estimate on fracking study

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks before Nassau

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks before Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano is sworn into office for his second term by Supreme Court Justice Thomas Feinman at Bethpage High School in Bethpage. (Jan. 2, 2014) Credit: Howard Schnapp

In an unusually pointed exchange, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's health commissioner refused Monday to provide lawmakers even a ballpark estimate of when he expects to complete a study on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.

"You must have an estimate, you are a researcher," Senate Finance Committee chairman John DeFranciso (R-Syracuse) said. "You must have some time frame as to when you might have enough information . . . just a ballpark?"

But Dr. Nirav Shah said at a legislative budget hearing that he's gotten into trouble before for giving estimates about when he could complete a study on whether New York should expand gas drilling. For example, a year ago Shah said his public health study to Cuomo was expected within weeks.

Cuomo has been dogged by protesters from both sides seeking a decision on the issue that was first tabled five years ago by former Gov. David A. Paterson. Now, Republicans are trying to shape the delay as a poor reflection on Cuomo's leadership on a politically difficult issue.

"We are sifting through it," Shah told DeFrancisco of his review of voluminous health studies. "It's not in the near future where I can predict it."

"Somehow I expected that answer," DeFrancisco said.

Other lawmakers, including Assemb. Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan), also pressed Shah. She entered into the hearing record 150 peer-reviewed health studies that she said were done in 2013 and show numerous reviews have already been completed. Her action was applauded by some of the demonstrators in the hearing room.

"I don't know if the one definitive study on health is going to come out tomorrow," Shah told Rosenthal. He said the science and the industry's technology is evolving fast and all sides will be able to critique his study when it's released.

"So I don't have a tipping point," Shah said. His research "will be public at some point . . . when it is public, everyone will have an opportunity."

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