New York City Opposed to Hydraulic Drilling in Watershed

Environmental officials in New York City are trying to stop hydraulic drilling for natural gas in the watershed that supplies drinking water to its 9 million inhabitants. According to the Associated Press, late last month, acting Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Steven Lawitts issued a statement saying the drilling process, known as hydraulic fracturing, posed too great a risk to the city’s water supply.

Gas exploration in New York’s Marcellus Shale region has been on hold while the state drafted regulations for hydraulic drilling. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation had been taking comments through December 31 on its draft, the Associated Press said. Lawitts’ statement was issued just before the Christmas holiday.

Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. This opens existing fractures in the rock and allows gas to rise through the wells. The practice makes drilling possible in areas that 10 to 20 years ago would not have been profitable. The major concern with shale gas drilling is the chemicals used in the process, and the wastewater it produces.

According to the Associated Press, New York City does not filter its water, which comes from reservoirs in the Catskills, thanks to a waiver from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Instead, it has spent about $1.5 billion since 1997 to protect the watershed, all of which sits inside the Marcellus Shale region. Building a filtration plant would cost New York City around $10 billion.

According to the Associated Press, consultants to the DEP noted several possible risks from hydraulic fracturing in the watershed. These include damage to the city’s water supply infrastructure, especially underground water tunnels, as well as the risk that chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process would seep into groundwater, and eventually make their way into the streams that feed reservoirs. The city also faulted the state for not analyzing cumulative impacts of the industrial development necessary for drilling and not sufficiently addressing public health concerns, the Associated Press said.

Lawitts’ statement called for a ban on natural gas drilling in the watershed. “Based on the latest science and available technology, as well as the data and limited analysis presented by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, high-volume hydrofracking and horizontal drilling pose unacceptable threats to the unfiltered fresh water supply of 9 million New Yorkers,” Lawitts said.

As we’ve reported previously, Chesapeake Energy Corporation, which owns the lease to drill in the watershed, said it won’t drill there. But opponents of the plan fear that that stance could eventually be reversed. Other drilling companies have not made similar promises.

Earlier this week, we reported that the EPA had also issued formal comments which questioned the state’s draft regulations. The agency said it has concerns that hydraulic drilling in New York’s Marcellus Shale region could affect public health and the environment. The EPA is urging the state to study the potential impact of the proposed drilling more extensively.

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