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Industry role in fracking study questioned

ALBANY -- Government watchdog Common Cause and 11 environmental groups raised more questions yesterday about the role of gas industry-associated consultants in the state's environmental impact study of shale gas drilling and fracking.

A review of Department of Environmental Conservation documents obtained by Common Cause through Freedom of Information Law requests shows two more firms with memberships in the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York were contracted for the state's review. The review, still incomplete after five years, is to determine whether fracking, which involves blasting chemical-laden water deep into the ground, will be allowed in the state.

On Wednesday, environmental groups and a dozen state legislators questioned the role of consultant Ecology and Environment Inc. in the review. Common Cause said yesterday that Alpha Geoscience and URS Corp. also were contracted for the review. All three had employees with memberships in IOGANY.

Groups seeking a state ban on fracking, also called hydraulic fracturing, have used several arguments to call for DEC's environmental review to be started from scratch, which would add more years to the current moratorium on it. The main one has been a call for a comprehensive health impact assessment with public participation. The state health commissioner, Dr. Nirav Shah, is reviewing whether safety measures recommended by DEC are adequate to ensure public health and safety. Completion of the DEC review hinges on his determination.

Questions about the objectivity of the three outside consultants were raised after IOGANY sent a letter to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday urging him to lift the moratorium.

The letter the industry group's executive director, Brad Gill, wrote to Cuomo was accompanied by a list of more than 200 IOGANY members, including the three state consultants. "The public can be assured that exploration for natural gas in New York is -- and has been -- safe, good for our environment and for our economy," Gill wrote.

Ecology and Environment said Wednesday it had severed ties with IOGANY and didn't authorize use of its name on the letter. The company takes no position on fracking but provides objective consulting services, its lawyer said.

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