New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Wednesday announced passage of legislation that would extend the moratorium on high volume hydraulic fracturing by two years in New York and require an additional health impact assessment. The controversial natural gas drilling technique known as "fracking" has spawned widespread protests over the past few years.

"We will not sit idly by and endanger the health and safety of our communities by rushing necessary health and safety reviews," said Silver. "We need to better understand the broad impacts to our environment, our economy, and the health and safety of all who work and live in New York before the Department of Environmental Conservation makes its decision."

This action would allow for a comprehensive review process, independent of industry pressure, while the Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) examination of hydraulic fracking continues. Delaying the DEC's ability to issue permits will provide the Legislature with additional time to examine all the facts including the awaited Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DSGEIS). The measure would also require a health impact assessment to be completed by a SUNY school of public health to examine fracking's potential public health impacts.

Concerns have repeatedly been raised about the potential impact of using horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from certain shale formations in New York State. This bill (A.5424-A/Sweeney) would prohibit the DEC from issuing permits for drilling in certain areas of the state including the Marcellus and Utica shale formations in order to allow for the continued examination of fracking's potential effect on public health and the environment.

Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Robert Sweeney said, "Safeguarding the health of the public and our invaluable natural resources remains the Assembly's priority. I commend my fellow lawmakers for supporting this important step towards ensuring a thoughtful and comprehensive review of all potential environmental and public health impacts. A greater danger lies in haste than in the deliberate safeguarding of our clean air and water, our health and the health of the generations to come."

Upon word of the legislation's passage, Senator Tom Libous (R-52) weighed in. "As I've said from the beginning, the decision on natural gas drilling should not be left to politicians or Hollywood actors," said Libous in a statement on Wednesday.

He continued, "It should be left to the scientists, geologists and health experts at the Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health, just as we leave decisions about other issues related to our water and air safety. I'm hopeful Governor Cuomo will move forward when the experts decide it's time to move forward. Until then, I'll be working hard to convince my colleagues in the Senate that this moratorium proposal is simply a media gimmick to placate activists against fracking."

The Assembly first passed a one-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in New York in November of 2010 that was subsequently vetoed by then Governor David Paterson. In June 2011, they voted to extend the moratorium until June 2012 but the Senate did not take action on the legislation. The new legislation would enact a moratorium until May 2015.

The legislation passed by the Assembly must still be approved by the state Senate, where its passage might be complicated by a power-sharing arrangement between Republicans and Democrats. But a Democratic majority in the Senate may be enough to send it to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is also a Democrat, for final approval.