Kennedy, Cuomo's former brother-in-law, told The Associated Press that he talked to Cuomo around the same time about the Geisinger report, which Kennedy thinks will be "pivotal." Soon after Cuomo spoke with Kennedy and others, the momentum to approve limited drilling died.
Cuomo's health commissioner, Dr. Nirav Shah, mentioned the Geisinger study among three health reviews that could influence Cuomo's decision. The others are an Environmental Protection Agency study, due for completion in 2014, of potential effects of fracking on drinking water, and a study recently announced by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania in collaboration with scientists from Columbia, Johns Hopkins and the University of North Carolina.
Dr. Aaron Bernstein, associate director of Harvard's Center for Health and the Global Environment, said researchers there hope to hear this month about funding for a comprehensive study on the health impacts of fracking that was proposed last year.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation's 5-year-old environmental impact study and new regulations are on hold, pending Shah's recommendation.
This week, the Assembly called for a two-year moratorium on a decision to await the Geisinger and other studies. The Independent Democratic Conference, which shares control of the Senate, also called for a delay until the Geisinger and two lesser studies are completed.
Geisinger executives envision the fracking health study as a 20-year project divided into five-year phases, with the first phase requiring upward of $25 million in funding. So far, the project has received $1 million from Sunbury, Pa.-based Degenstein Foundation, which is not seen as having an ideological bent.
Deubler said much of the first five years will be spent building a data-collection system, although there likely will be some pilot studies at the same time that look for actual health effects. Geisinger is also partnering with Guthrie Health on the study. Guthrie provides health care in the Southern Tier and northern Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania public health officials are also sharing data.
Sandra Steingraber, a biologist and leader of a coalition of about 250 health professionals concerned about the health effects of fracking in New York, said the Geisinger study is the first that will track medical information over time and by area. Researchers will be able to use the data to find patterns such as a change in the number of asthma cases in children after drilling starts in an area.
"This is one type of study we've been asking for, but it's not all we're asking for," said Steingraber, whose group insists on a comprehensive health impact assessment with public input.