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Kate Sinding’s Blog

NY Legislators Agree: Governor Must Throw Out Gas Drilling Study, Start Over

Kate Sinding

Posted January 4, 2010 in Curbing Pollution

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Just after the opportunity for public comment on proposed natural gas fracking in New York's Marcellus Shale formation closed last week - it will be hard for the Governor to ignore the big, united coalition of environmentalists and legislators (hailing from across the state and 4 levels of government) who are gathering on the steps of City Hall today to call his attention to our concerns.

Representatives of New York in the U.S. Congress, both houses of the state legislature, New York City Council and county governments are echoing the call of NRDC and more than 25 environmental groups - they want Governor Paterson to throw out the draft environmental study the state issued on proposed natural gas drilling and start over.

We agree: the state's draft study on natural gas hydrofracking in the Marcellus is flawed, insufficient and inadequate to use as the basis for permitting gas drilling in New York.

The comment period on the state’s draft environmental study closed Dec. 31st and after careful review of the more than 800-page document by NRDC staff – together with a team we retained of leading scientific and legal experts in the fields of hydrology, hydrogeology, petroleum engineering, toxicology, and general environmental review – we submitted our official comments. You can find NRDC’s full comments here, and I’ve pulled out a few key conclusions below:

  • The study is fatally flawed and must be withdrawn
  • It does not look at the impacts of drilling throughout the Marcellus Shale on a cumulative basis
  • It does not properly consider alternative, safer practices (e.g., setting sensitive places off-limits, using non-toxic fracking fluids, or issuing drill permits in phases instead of all at once)
  • It does not propose a legally binding regulatory program for the major new industrial activity it would create here in New York
  • It fails to address the risk of toxic chemical contamination of the drinking water supply for 9 million New Yorkers (including all of NYC) by failing to set the unique and critically important Catskill/Delaware Watershed off-limits from drilling

The lengthy comments of our technical experts highlight numerous other critical deficiencies – ranging from the failure to properly model for potential contaminant migration, to inadequate monitoring plans, to failure to account for how and where vast amounts of wastewater would be treated, as well as many, many other fatal flaws.  In addition, the comments put in on our behalf by leading environmental firm, Sive, Paget & Riesel, P.C., highlight the particular impacts that would be borne by local communities.

The controversial gas drilling methods in question risk toxic chemical contamination to drinking water not only for the more than 9 million New York City area residents in the Catskill/Delaware watershed, but numerous others across the state. And it carries with it a host of other environmental and public health threats. Already, it has been linked to contamination incidents in other parts of the country. After seeing the consequences unfold elsewhere - New Yorkers deserve to know this method will be done safely if drills are to break ground. 

But the state has yet to show this is the case. And the coalition of New Yorkers and their government representatives who agree continues to grow. Strongly critical comments were also submitted by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, which essentially called for a ban on drilling in the Catskill/Delaware watershed, as well as the federal Environmental Protection Agency.  Natural gas may be able to help us in the epic effort to transition to a clean energy economy - but not at the cost of safe drinking water.

Let's hope Governor Paterson is listening.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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