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State’s NYC watershed announcement not all it's cracked up to be

Kate Sinding

Posted April 23, 2010

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Following many months of intense pressure by environmental groups, elected officials and individual NYC residents, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation announced today that it was effectively removing the NYC and Syracuse drinking watersheds from controversial natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

Some have been touting this as a victory for New York’s drinking water.  But we don’t see it that way.  Not only do we fear this move greases the skids for drilling in the remainder of the state without adequate examination of the impacts or measures to protect all New Yorkers’ drinking water supplies, but we also are concerned it risks giving New York City residents a false sense of security.

Let’s be clear about what today’s announcement really means.  While the state is acknowledging the special concerns associated with these unique resources because of their special status as unfiltered drinking water supplies for major metropolitan areas, this announcement does little to nothing to actually protect the drinking water supplies for New York City or Syracuse.

Stated another way, the announcement tells us the watersheds for more than 9 million New Yorkers are still vulnerable to drilling with toxic chemicals. And the experience in every other oil and gas drilling state tells us that companies could well find it in their economic interest to go through a “site-specific environmental review” process for well applications in these two watersheds – the so-called special new protections announced today by DEC.

Furthermore, the state has left wide open the possibility that it could revisit drilling in the watersheds at any time, and you can be sure if the shale shows itself to be productive in NYS, the pressure will be on it to do just that.  This is especially true looking down the road a few years when gas prices are higher and drills are in the ground elsewhere in the state.

Perhaps even more troubling, it’s an ominous sign for the water supply in the rest of the state – which could be subject to drilling under a rushed and fatally flawed environmental review that we’ve said for months needs to be redone.  Removing the NYC watershed from the current review process, in particular, provides opportunities for the agency to speed ahead and begin permitting in other parts of the state.  It removes the onus of responding to the devastating comments on impacts to the watershed prepared by the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NRDC and others with respect to the draft environmental study, and it may lull the city’s residents and elected officials into a false sense of security.

The bottom line is this: we don’t need any more review to tell us what we already know. The economic and health costs of an accident in the New York City or Syracuse water supplies – which is a very real risk – are just too high and too big. The only responsible decision from the state is to issue a full ban on gas drilling in the New York City and Syracuse drinking water supplies, and to restart the environmental review for the rest of the state. Anything else simply doesn’t protect the health of New Yorkers.

So let’s hold off on popping the champagne.  And let’s keep up the calls on the Governor and DEC to enact a permanent, legally binding ban on drilling in the ecologically vulnerable drinking watersheds that serve millions of New Yorkers, and to pull back the draft environmental study for the entire state and do it right.  Drinking water supplies across the state are at risk.  This is our last opportunity to ensure that NY does not suffer the fate of so many other states that have rushed ahead to drill following the siren song of the mighty dollar.

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Brooklyn ScepticApr 25 2010 07:00 PM

I completely agree with everything stated in the article, but unfortunately, there are other states to be concerned about, too. Pennsylvania doesn't seem to be as eager to curtail drilling as New York, even if New York needs to do better. They're not only behind the curve, but the PA Governor, Edward Rendell, seems more than happy to give the gas drilling industry what they want, apparently viewing the drilling as a way to close the state budget gap. Many acres of PA public state forest land have already been leased out for drilling, and the campaign to sign up private land owners doesn't seem to slowing down at all. In fact, it seems that with the potential objections to drilling looming in the near future, the gas companies are actually ramping up their efforts. Pennsylvania drilling could affect the New York City watershed in the same negative ways that drilling in New York state could. It would be great if New York banned all drilling, but without the same participation and cooperation from Pennsylvania, the dangers will still exist.

unreceivedogmaApr 25 2010 10:42 PM

Does this raise equal protection questions?

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