Natural gas rush will come at expense of NYC’s water

Natural gas rush will come at expense of NYC’s water

Monday, September 22nd 2008, 6:18 PM

Be Our Guest: James Gennaro, councilman

In the recent oil rush film “There Will Be Blood,” early 20th century speculators go door to door and offer struggling landowners money in exchange for the right to drill through the ground and reap the riches that flow underneath.

About 100 miles north of New York City, in the watershed from which 9 million New Yorkers get their drinking water, a similar scene is being played out right now. As a result of a new law recently passed by the state Legislature that will greatly facilitate natural gas drilling upstate, energy companies are paying landowners princely sums for leases allowing them to drill for gas almost 2 miles underground using an environmentally problematic technique called “hydraulic fracturing.”

In the film version of this story, the prospecting enriches everyone involved, but not without terrible environmental and human tolls from contamination. In the real-life version of this story, environmental experts and I warn of the risks that hydraulic fracturing poses for the New York City drinking water supply. As a geologist, environmental scientist and public policymaker who has been deeply involved in efforts to preserve and enhance the city’s drinking water quality for almost 20 years, I believe that this activity will result in the degradation of the water quality in the city’s upstate reservoirs and ultimately lead to city residents being forced to pay in excess of $10 billion for a water filtration plant to clean up the mess.

We cannot allow this to happen. Not to ourselves, and not to our children. With state legislation already passed in stealth, it is now up to the public and the media – and the power of its collective voices – to make sure a bad state law doesn’t pollute New York City’s drinking water supply and cost city taxpayers billions of dollars in the process.

The law in question, S8169A, will help expand drilling prospects greatly across upstate New York‘s Marcellus Shale underground rock formation, including areas within New York City’s drinking water supply watershed. This law could have and should have excluded the area within the city’s drinking water supply, but it didn’t. At a public hearing that I chaired in City Hall on Sept. 10, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis would not commit to formally excluding our drinking water supply from drilling, but that may change if enough New Yorkers stand up and join me in my protest.

Hydraulic fracturing has contaminated water supplies in other states, including Wyoming and New Mexico. The method, which for each well forces millions of gallons of water, sand and industrial chemicals through earth as deep as 9,000 feet underground, has been decried for its impact on water supplies by numerous environmental groups, including the League of Conservation Voters, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the Catskill Mountainkeeper and Earthwatch’s Oil and Gas Accountability Project.

There are abundant areas upstate outside of the city’s watershed that overlay the Marcellus Shale where drilling could conceivably proceed with the proper environmental safeguards. But not in our water supply. Never in our water supply. Let’s not let the allure of the short-term economic gain from drilling blind us to the fact that if this is allowed in our water supply, the economic benefits will pale in comparison to degraded reservoirs and a prohibitively expensive filtration plant we wouldn’t otherwise need.

Everyone knows that water and oil don’t mix. Neither do water and natural gas.

James Gennaro is chairman of the New York City Council‘s Committee on Environmental Protection.’It is now up to the public and the media.’

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