It's far more likely that the real reason the ban will go into effect is that the politics changed dramatically for Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). First, the state's employment picture changed. And, second, he doesn't need to worry about reelection for a long time -- if at all.
Cuomo has avoided making a final decision on whether or not to allow fracking since he came into office. The Post's Reid Wilson outlines the years-long machinations leading up to the decision. Cuomo, who is a master of working bureaucracy, repeatedly demanded analyses of possible health outcomes like that released this week. Now he stands behind the final product.
NY1 quotes the governor in response to Zucker's announcement:
"It can create jobs. The negative is it's dangerous and depending on which side of the table you're on, that's the argument. Obviously everybody is in favor of creating jobs, obviously everyone is against creating a dangerous public health or environment situation," Cuomo said.
Cuomo insists that politics wasn't involved. But that statement, to some extent, tips his hand.
In 2012, the New York Times reported that Cuomo would allow fracking in the state's southernmost counties. That area has the strongest overlap with the rock formations in which fracking takes place: brittle shale, which is broken apart to release gas and oil. The Marcellus shale formation extends up from West Virginia into southern and central New York. Cuomo was reportedly considering letting companies drill only in part of it.
Why part? Almost certainly because the area was hard-hit economically. Upstate New York (here defined as "north of New York City") has been struggling for years as the national economy has shifted, and after the recession, that got worse. Counties along the state's southern border are not only more politically conservative (generally favoring Mitt Romney in 2012 and, therefore, more amenable to oil exploration), but they also needed jobs.
But even in western New York, there was contention. The Finger Lakes region, a bit further north, depends heavily on tourism. In 2012, I spoke with the Chamber of Commerce in Penn Yan, N.Y., at the tip of Keuka Lake, to gauge how the business community felt about the possibility of fracking. A representative said they were split: businesses that depended on tourism were worried about pollution in the lake, other businesses supported the possibility of job growth (which is very real; three cities in North Dakota were among the fastest-growing in the country in 2013, thanks to the boom in the Bakken shale formation in that state).
That was 2012. Over the past year, unemployment rates in the state have fallen, just as they have broadly across the country. Where the Finger Lakes were peppered with pro- and anti-fracking signs two years ago, this year, the signs dealt more often with Cuomo's also-contentious gun control bill. While a lot of people upstate are still out of work, the urgency has faded a bit.
Also over the past year, Cuomo won reelection -- handily, but not in a massive landslide. He took great pains in both the Democratic primary and general election to ensure as smooth a path as possible. If you believe that Cuomo didn't defer a decision on fracking in part due to concerns about his campaign, you are less of a cynic than me.
In the end, Cuomo kicked the decision downstairs, leaving it up to the experts to decide. They decided against, certainly with Cuomo's blessing. He's not out of the woods politically; the economy could head south once again, so to speak.
But for now, Cuomo can at long last wash his hands of the issue -- in pure, unpolluted Finger Lakes water.