Fracking, as it looks across the New York State border, in Pennsylvania.

Fracking has been banned in New York State since 2008. Then-Governor David Paterson imposed a moratorium on the controversial technique— which fractures shale rock using high pressure, specially treated water to release gas trapped inside—citing the need for further study of health and environmental risks. After six years and a multiplicity of such studies the results seem to indicate that fracking can be done safely—but often is not. And that is conclusive enough to allow the current governor, Andrew Cuomo, to officially ban the practice, according to The New York Times.

Cuomo, who won reelection last month, made the ban official via Acting Commissioner of Health Howard Zucker. Zucker publicly stated at a year-end cabinet meeting that the science on fracking's health impacts is too incomplete but suggests serious risks, according to the long-awaited review from his department.


High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (PDF)

High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (Text)

Those risks range from air pollution near gas-handling facilities (as has been seen in Texas) to the problem of disposing of billions of liters of contaminated water safely. Dumping that water back underground has led to earthquakes across the U.S. in states like Ohio and Oklahoma. And the rush to drill and frack has led to some poorly made wells that then leak methane.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that traps 25 times more heat than carbon dioxide over a century's time. But, burned as a fuel, the gas results in roughly half the CO2 that burning coal does. As a result of that climate change benefit—and the low prices occasioned by fracking for gas in many other states, including neighboring Pennsylvania—burning gas has become the preferred option for new power plants to generate electricity. Power plants that can burn natural gas account for more than half of all the electricity generated in New York State.

Cuomo has publicly stated that he would follow the advice of his experts, such as Zucker and the N.Y.S. Department of Environmental Conservation, in formulating the final policy on fracking. New York State becomes the first state in the U.S. with significant shale gas to ban fracking to free it.