Officials Hail Victory For City Water Safety
By Jessica AblamskyQueens’ drinking water received new protection after state environmental officials announced the introduction of an expensive and time-consuming permit process for natural gas wells within the Catskills/Delaware Watershed.
Each well will require a separate environmental review to determine possible impacts and mitigation measures, which will creates what many consider to be an effective ban on drilling.
“We firmly believe, based on the best available science and current industry and technological practices, that drilling cannot be permitted in the City’s watershed,” said Mayor Mike Bloomberg. “We are confident that the additional reviews now required for any drilling proposal in the watershed will lead the State to that same conclusion.”
Although the ruling is not an outright ban, Brad Gill, Executive Director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, a trade organization, said that the effect is the same.
Drilling within the Catskills watershed could contaminate drinking water for the 8.2 million City residents and about 1 million more in Dutchess, Putnam and Westchester Counties who depend on it, according to a recent report by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.
The gas companies planned to use a technique called hydraulic fracturing, a water-intensive process that uses sand and chemicals to create fractures in rock. Potential impacts include air and water pollution, the release of radioactive materials, toxic spills, and damage to necessary infrastructure.
“These watersheds only occupy a very, very small portion of the land that will conceivably be open to drillers,” said City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), noting the scale of the newly protected area.
The Catskills/Delaware watershed is a small area that lies within the enormous Marcellus shale region, which stretches from Ohio and West Virginia, northeast into Pennsylvania and southern New York, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
State DEC officials are putting together an expedited permit process for areas that lie outside the Catskills/Delaware and Syracuse watersheds.
In New York, there are 58 applications for horizontal wells in Marcellus shale. None lie within the Catskills watershed.
It is not yet known how much natural gas in New York is commercially recoverable, but the entire formation could contain more than 500 trillion cubic feet. New Yorkers use about 1.1 trillion cubic feet each year.
Geologists have long known about the deposits, but interest has intensified over the past decade due to higher demand and improvements in drilling technology.
“We won,” Gennaro said. “There is the larger question of how the state and the city sort of came to wrestle with this issue in the first place.”
Hydraulic fracturing is the only kind of energy exploration that is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, due to a federal energy bill passed in 2005.
“All we’re really asking for is for this kind of exploration to be held to the same standards as other kind of energy exploration activities,” Gennaro said. “They are going to try to roll though the states as quickly as possible.”
Reach Reporter Jessica Ablamsky at email@example.com, or (718) 357-7400, Ext. 124.