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Ban Hydraulic Drilling in Watershed, New York City Says

Jan 6, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

New York City is calling for a ban on hydraulic fracturing in the watershed that supplies the city's drinking water.  The Catskills watershed sets entirely in New York States' Marcellus Shale region.

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. Building a filtration plant would cost New York City around $10 billion.

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.

Late last month, acting Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Steven Lawitts issued a statement on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation draft regulations for hydraulic drilling the  saying the process posed too high a risk to the city's drinking water.  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.

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