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State health commissioner grilled on fracking by lawmakers

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Albany/HV: State health commissioner grilled on fracking by lawmakers
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ALBANY, N.Y. -- With anti-hydrofracking advocates listening to his every word, Health Commissioner Nirav Shah was grilled by state lawmakers for more than three hours on Monday.

While money for permitting and regulating the controversial natural gas drilling process isn't in the budget, Senate and Assembly lawmakers pushed Shah to give them an answer on when his health review would be completed.

Shah began a review of the health impacts of hydrofracking in November 2012. Since then, little information has been released on what studies Shah is consulting or who is advising his department on the fracking issue.

"Right now it's very emotional and we're staying away from the emotions. We're sticking to the science as much as possible. I don't have a date because I don't know if the one definitive study on health is going to come out or if it will ever come out," Shah said.

The lack of transparency has frustrated advocates on both sides of the hydrofracking issue, who are demanding more information from Shah's office. On Monday, Shah told lawmakers their questions will be answered once he deliver his report to Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens.

Indeed, Shah has plenty of outside advice along the way, including lawmakers themselves submitting fracking studies for his office to review.

"I have a packet here of 150 peer-reviewed studies that just came out in 2013 compiled by physicians, engineers and scientists for healthy energies. I'd like to submit them on the record," said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan.

The review began after state officials missed multiple deadlines to develop an environmental impact study and permitting process for high-volume hydrofracking. It is a politically fraught issue that pits groups that want to see more jobs in the Southern Tier against environmentalists.

"He's said let the science lead the way. It has not in any way impacted me. And when I asked for more time he said, OK, you can have more time," Shah said.

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