Democratic Governor-elect Tom Wolf says New York made the wrong move by banning fracking.
New York State health officials say there isn’t enough evidence to show whether or not gas development has an impact on public health. Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker wrote in a report released Wednesday that “absolute scientific certainty” is “unlikely to ever be attained,” which is why his department said it could not recommend allowing natural gas development in the Empire State.
At a press conference Wednesday in Northeast Pennsylvania, which is home to some of the most lucrative gas wells in the state, Wolf called New York’s decision “unfortunate.” He says he believes fracking can be done safely.
“I want to have my cake and eat it, too. I don’t want to do what New York did,” he said. “I want to do what I think we can do here in Pennsylvania and that is have this industry, but do it right from an environmental point of view, from a health point of view.”
It is a position, Wolf said, that has not gotten him credit from either hard-lined environmentalists committed to a ban on fracking or with the state’s natural gas industry.
Marcellus Shale Coalition President Dave Spigelmyer said in a statement that while he appreciates Wolf’s support for the industry, the coalition “looks forward to working with the governor-elect on common sense policies that will help bolster Pennsylvania’s position as a top natural gas-producing state.”
Although he opposes a statewide ban on fracking in Pennsylvania, Wolf supports a moratorium in the Delaware River basin and on new leasing in state parks and forests.
The incoming governor would not get into specifics, but said one of his priorities will be to create a health registry that would monitor impacts in heavy drilling areas. That idea was proposed under the outgoing Corbett administration in 2011, but the legislature never allocated funding to the state Department of Health to do the work. The proposal was also opposed by the industry.
Following revelations in June that the DOH had practices in place that muzzled employees on the issue of drilling, some environmental groups and public health professionals called for the state to recommit to plans for a health registry.
As of Wednesday, the DOH has logged 76 drilling-related health complaints since 2011, but has said the substance of those complaints cannot be made public.
Again, without elaborating on specific policies, Wolf said his administration would be “open and transparent about what our health challenges are” and is directing some members of his transition team to review New York’s health report.
“What we’ll find is in the absence of good regulations, in the absence of a strong concern for health, you have problems,” he said.