Gov. Andrew Cuomo denied reports by the online news outlet Capital New York that his administration interfered with a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report to make hydraulic fracturing—known as fracking—appear safer than what the science suggested.
“I don’t know,” he told Capital at an unrelated press conference Wednesday. “Literally on a weekly basis, you can get academics and reports saying it’s totally safe and then the next week you get a report saying it’s the most dangerous thing since a nuclear explosion.”
Cuomo has been long pressed by environmental activists to renew New York state’s moratorium on fracking, but the governor has refused to take a stance on the issue, and promised not to do so before the election.
“You know, that’s one of the challenges. It’s become a very highly politicized, highly emotional, highly opinionated topic and I am relying on substantive experts in my administration, who don’t bring any bias, to work through it and give me their best advice, which I will follow. I’m not a scientist. I’m not going through the data and the research myself, but they are,” he said.
Capital New York had obtained an early draft of the USGS report, which they found had discrepancies with the final version that suggested the authors of the report were pushed to downplay the risk of the methane released from fracking.
This was corroborated by the emails they obtained showing exchanges between officials in the Cuomo administration and USGS staff, which Capital said was “particularly intense.”
This is not the first time that the governor has been accused of interfering with government activities to further his own political ends.
Earlier this year, Cuomo had been harangued with allegations that his office pressured the anti-corruption Moreland Commission to end an investigation of a media firm that had worked on Cuomo’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
“In the case of Moreland, it’s interference before justice, in the case of fracking, it’s interference before science. It’s an almost obsessive desire to control outcome regardless of either the science or logic or law behind it,” said Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham law professor who lost to Cuomo in the Democratic primary in September.
In the draft, the authors of the report stated that widespread extraction of natural gas could cause the “inadvertent introduction” of natural gas underground, thus polluting the water supply.
The final version of the report added the sentence “This risk can be reduced if the casing and cementing of wells is properly designed and constructed,” with the rest of the paragraph unchanged.
The risk of cement well failure is a politicized subject among geoscientists, with proponents of natural gas as an energy source giving low estimates and opponents of natural gas giving higher ones.
A 2011 paper by Cornell researchers Anthony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth claimed that as much as 1.9 percent of the natural gas extracted from fracking could escape from extraction wells, whereas their colleague Lawrence Cathles put the figure around 0.2 percent.