New York City tap water is considered among the nation’s finest. In fact, entrepreneurs have been known to bottle it, market it, and even have a bit of luck selling it.
But a recent report commissioned by the city Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) warns that the local drinking water supply is in jeopardy and unless action is taken, a multi-billion dollar filtration plant would have to be built – and New Yorkers’ water rates would skyrocket as a result.
The culprit is natural gas drilling and exploration in the Marcellus Shale formation, the city’s upstate, West of Hudson watershed, which also extends through parts of Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. After reviewing its Final Impact Assessment Report – which took into account the watershed’s hydrological and geological conditions; the technology and chemicals involved in drilling; and other localities’ experiences with gas exploration – the DEP has called for a prohibition on any drilling in the city’s 1,585-mile swath of the watershed.
“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, high-volume hydrofracking and horizontal drilling pose unacceptable threats to the unfiltered fresh water supply of nine million New Yorkers,” acting DEP commissioner Steven Lawitts said in announcing the findings.
Despite the fact that the city has spent $1.5 billion protecting the waters since 1997, the gas exploration, if continued, could result in the need to build a $10 billion water filtration plant, at the expense of a 30 percent increase in New Yorkers’ water bills, the agency said.
The DEP cited industrialization, chemical contamination and infrastructure damage as reasons to halt the gas exploration in the watershed. Such drilling entails injecting chemicals into subsurface rock formations, which could send contaminants along underground fissures directly into the drinking water supply, according to the agency’s findings. Additionally, the thousands of gas wells needed for drilling would require extensive site clearing and produce millions of tons of waste, the DEP said.
City Councilmember James Gennaro, chair of the Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection, said in a statement that he was “overjoyed” by the DEP’s findings. He added, “I’m grateful to the Bloomberg administration for commissioning this report and for taking this strong stance on the issue.”