The NYC DEP notes the risk to infrastructure from drilling near its tunnels, such as the West Delaware Tunnel, seen in schematic above about 850 feet below the ground. The cutline to this graphic reads: “Risk of structural compromise or contamination due to pre-existing fractures and faults that may be influenced by fracking. Tunnels were designed to keep water in, not to withstand external pressures.”
City’s concerns with drilling extend to entire county
By Dan Hust
NEW YORK CITY According to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), gas drilling in the New York City drinking water supply area must not be allowed.
“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 hydrofracking and horizontal drilling pose unacceptable threats to the unfiltered fresh water supply of nine million New Yorkers,” said Acting DEP Commissioner Steven W. Lawitts last week.
“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),” he continued. “The known and unknown impacts associated with drilling simply cannot be justified.”
The DEP has also demanded the DEC redo its draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS), for which public comments are being accepted through this Thursday.
The dSGEIS, when finalized next year, is intended to add to the existing GEIS regulating drilling statewide, addressing new technologies including fracking and horizontal drilling.
Most drilling companies interested in New York especially in Sullivan County, where potential yields from the gas-rich Marcellus Shale are estimated to be high have been waiting for the DEC to finish the SGEIS and define the new regulatory landscape.
However, DEP considers the dSGEIS flawed and incomplete, not taking into enough account cumulative impacts nor specific impacts to the city.
DEP officials are basing their concerns on a study they commissioned via two consulting groups. For the past year, the consultants have researched available data on drilling in areas across the U.S., including the recent surge in activity in Pennsylvania.
They’ve concluded that even the presence of one gas well in the city’s 1,585-square-mile West-of-Hudson watershed could endanger one or more of the six reservoirs and associated tunnels.
Concerns noted in the 90-page report swirl around contamination of the water supply, not just by polluted surface water and spills but by underground migration via aquifers and, more significantly to the city, infiltration of chemicals used in the fracking process via fault lines in the rock some of which apparently intersect the various water tunnels crossing the Catskills.
“Tunnels were designed to keep water in, not to withstand external pressures,” noted DEP Deputy Commissioner Paul Rush in his recent comments to the city’s Water Board.
The city is also worried about what it fears will be a mass “industrialization” of the watershed area, with estimates of potential wells topping 6,000, leading to as much as 7 million truck trips over the next two decades. Consultants based these estimates on activity in the Barnett, Haynesville and Fayetteville shale plays in the U.S.
For those worried about gas drilling’s environmental costs, the report is significant because it identifies potential impacts that would obviously not be limited to the city’s watershed. (Only the Town of Neversink and tiny slivers of the towns of Liberty and Fallsburg are included in that watershed in Sullivan County.)
For now, however, county officials are waiting on the DEC to take the next step.
County Planning Commissioner Luiz Aragon pointed out that the county has already submitted its comments on drilling to the DEC, sharing some of the concerns raised by the DEP (though the county’s comments were submitted before the DEP’s report was released).
“The question remains,” Aragon concluded, “what will be done with those comments?”
Comments are being accepted through December 31 and can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
state.ny.us, mailed to dSGEIS Comments, Bureau of Oil & Gas Regulation, NYSDEC Division of Mineral Resources, 625 Broadway, Third Floor, Albany, NY 12233-6500, or submitted online at www.dec.ny.gov/cfmx/extapps/SGEISComments.
Copies of the DEP report and related comments can be obtained at www.nyc.gov/html/