Ithaca, N.Y. — The report that could help determine the future of Marcellus Shale fracking is hopelessly outdated and should be discarded, an environmental advocacy group said in a statement Monday.

In 2009, New York produced a draft “supplemental environmental impact statement” to assess how fracking in the Marcellus Shale formation would affect the region. The idea of the study was to adopt new environmental and health safeguards before permitting the controversial drilling practice.

A map from the NY DEC shows the Marcellus Shale region.

Nearly five years later, however, Gov. Andrew Cuomo hasn’t come down on either side of the debate. But the data gathered back in 2009 remains the state’s official basis for making its decision — even though its findings are no longer relevant, said Walter Hang, president of the Ithaca-based Toxics Targeting.

“It lacks any current information,” a petition being circulated by Toxics Targeting says of the environmental impact statement. (The petition demands that Cuomo withdraw the current impact statement and order the state’s Department of Health to start a new one.)

“As a result, it fails to assess hundreds of recent investigations, studies and reports that have significantly expanded the scientific understanding of shale fracking’s pollution impacts.”

Fracking in N.Y. has been in limbo since a statewide moratorium was placed on it in 2008. Cuomo has not announced if he supports fracking the Marcellus Shale or not, saying instead that he wants to learn more about its impact.

The indecision hasn’t just caught Cuomo flack from the left. In January, the New York Post quoted the head of the American Petroleum Institute as criticizing Cuomo for “hiding ‘for far too long’ behind the ‘excuse’ of conducting a health study on the safety of fracking.”

“I think it’s unfortunate because it hurts his state. It hurts economic development in his state,” said the API president, Jack Gerard.

But the de facto prohibition of fracking, so frustrating for those in the industry, has been seen as an important victory for N.Y.’s environmental activists.

“The bottom line is that if New York’s shale fracking moratorium can be extended for another few years, our state could be the first in USA mining history to phase out fossil fuel extraction and the contamination hazards caused by that inadequately regulated industry,” a statement from Toxics Targeting says.

Here’s some of the text of the Toxics Targeting letter to Gov. Cuomo:

“We, the undersigned, write respectfully to request that you withdraw the Marcellus Shale Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) because it is nearly five years old, lacks any current information whatsoever and would inadequately protect New York from fracking hazards.

In 2008, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) decided not to permit shale fracking until a Final SGEIS was adopted to safeguard public health and the environment. That de facto moratorium has prevented even one shale gas production well from ever being fracked in our state.

The original Draft SGEIS was proposed in 2009 and is based on a Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) adopted nearly 22 years ago. The Draft SGEIS is based on a scoping proceeding undertaken six years ago. A Revised Draft SGEIS was released nearly three years ago and has never been updated.

Given the long delay in adopting the Draft SGEIS, it lacks any current information. As a result, it fails to assess hundreds of recent investigations, studies and reports that have significantly expanded the scientific understanding of shale fracking’s pollution impacts.

Most importantly, the “health impact analysis” in the Draft SGEIS reflects information that is nearly five years old. That is ancient by scientific investigation standards.

Given these shortcomings, it would be inappropriate to make a decision to permit shale fracking in New York based on a Draft SGEIS that is too old and outdated to fulfill that purpose.

That is why we respectfully request that you:

a) Withdraw the Draft SGEIS;

b) Halt your State Department of Health (DOH) “review” of the dated “health impact analysis” in the Draft SGEIS;

c) Instruct your DOH to undertake a comprehensive shale fracking “Public Health Impact Study” openly and transparently using all available current data;

d) Require DOH and DEC to utilize the findings of the “Public Health Impact Study” to propose and adopt a new Generic Environmental Impact Statement. That is precisely what the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency recommended in 2009. See:

Against that background, New York has an unprecedented opportunity to eliminate the fossil fuel extraction hazards that have plagued our state for nearly 200 years. Only one natural gas well was drilled and “completed” for production in New York during all of 2013, the most recent year for which DEC permitting information is publicly available.

 The full letter can be read here.

Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.