By Alex Christodoulides
City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) is worried that a recent state law to allow drilling for natural gas in an upstate area that overlaps with two of the aquifers that supply the city's drinking water will contaminate the source and is calling for a moratorium on drilling.
The law, signed July 23 by Gov. David Paterson, will allow wells tapping into natural gas deposits across western New York state — many of them 7,000 feet below ground level under a thick layer of Marcellus Shale — to be located closer to one another than had been permitted.
The law piqued the interest of the gas industry and creates a potential economic boom among upstate property owners whose land has suddenly acquired value as speculators jockey to lease it, Gennaro said. But a practice called hydraulic fracturing to drill that gas from the shale bed looks like the most likely way gas companies will tap into this resource, the councilman said.
This approach has been shown to pollute water supplies in other areas where the technique has been used, Gennaro said at a news conference at his office last week, where he and two environmental watchdog groups called for a moratorium on drilling.
The location of the enormous shale bed lies not only in New York state, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, but also within the Catskill and Delaware watersheds in Sullivan and Dutchess counties that supply the city's drinking water.
What affects the watersheds will affect the drinking water and will likely necessitate the future construction of a $10 billion filtration plant to clean the tap water, Gennaro said.
“Hydraulic fracturing is a process by which, for each individual well, millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are forced into the ground to release the gas. It's a messy process,” said Eric Goldstein, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national environmental watchdog group.
“The public needs to know where the gallons of water will go and how they will be disposed of,” he said. “We all agree that such actions pose risks and until those risks can be determined, we're asking to call a moratorium on drilling.”
As for which chemicals are used in the process, neither Gennaro nor the Natural Resources Defense Council nor other groups have been able to find out.
“The chemicals are a trade secret,” the councilman said.
And in other states where the practice has been used, such as New Mexico and Colorado, there are numerous instances of drinking water contamination from nearby oil and gas wells, Gennaro said — a likelihood that does not sit well with the councilman. Earlier this year he trumpeted the city's continuing exemption from drinking water filtration requirements because the watersheds are so pure.
Gennaro, who chairs the City Council's Environmental Protection Committee, has worked to buy and protect land in the two watersheds that supply the city's drinking water and ensure the city's longtime exemption from drinking water filtration requirements.
Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.