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New York City DEP: Marcellus Drilling Poses 'Unacceptable Threats'

January 4, 2010
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Natural gas drilling and exploration in an area of the Marcellus Shale "are incompatible with the operation of New York City's unfiltered water supply system and pose unacceptable risks for more than nine million New Yorkers, according to the city's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which is calling for a prohibition on drilling in the Catskills/Delaware watershed.

DEP officials said a Final Impact Assessment Report indicates that drilling in the watershed would require invasive industrialization and create a substantial risk of chemical contamination and infrastructure damage.

"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 (DEC), high-volume hydrofracing and horizontal drilling pose unacceptable threats to the unfiltered fresh water supply of nine million New Yorkers," said Acting DEP Commissioner Steven W. Lawitts. "New York City has invested $1.5 billion to protect the watershed and prevent degradation of the water supply, and to maintain its Filtration Avoidance Determination (FAD). The known and unknown impacts associated with drilling simply cannot be justified."

A report issued last month by the city's Independent Budget Office (IBO) concluded that if the city were to fall out of compliance with its Environmental Protection Agency-approved FAD as a result of chemicals in the runoff from drilling or other development now being contemplated in the Catskills/Delaware watershed, the city could be forced to spend $6-10 billion for a new water filtration plant.

The city has already committed to spend more than $630 million through 2017 to protect the Catskills/Delaware watershed, from which it draws more than 90% of its water supply. If those efforts are successful, there will be no need to build a large filtration facility. But if the watershed were to become contaminated, the city would be obligated to build a filtration plant that IBO said would increase water rates 171% over the 10-year construction period, compared to a projected 148% increase over the same period if the plant were not built, the report said. Costs to build a filtration plant would increase an average residential customer's annual water bill by $367, according to IBO.

The DEC at the end of September released proposed rules for companies that want to drill in the gas-rich Marcellus Shale (see NGI, Oct. 5, 2009). In comments filed in December, the city called on DEC to rescind its draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS), which addresses the range of potential impacts of shale gas development using horizontal drilling and high-volume hydrofracing and outlines safety and mitigation measures that operators would have to follow to obtain permits. According to the city the SGEIS does not adequately address the risks of drilling in the watershed and does not include necessary analyses. In addition, a separate assessment of potential public health impacts should be performed by the New York State Department of Health, DEP officials said.

New York state economic development and business interests -- led by the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York -- last week reminded Gov. David A. Paterson that his draft energy plan includes expansion of natural gas exploration (see related story).

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