By Anna Gustafson
The city Department of Environmental Protection’s report released last week that calls for a ban on gas drilling in the city’s upstate watershed thrilled City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), who has repeatedly said such action in the area that provides drinking water to the majority of city residents would cost taxpayers billions of dollars and potentially prove dangerous to individuals’ health.
Gennaro has consistently criticized the state Legislature’s approval of a law in July 2008 that allows wells tapping into gas deposits across New York to be located more closely to one another than previously permitted, making it economically feasible for wide-scale drilling to begin near the city’s drinking water reservoirs.
In November the Council unanimously passed Gennaro’s resolution that calls on Albany to ban drilling in the city’s watershed, a move he said would result in the city spending about $10 billion on a filtration system and could potentially contaminate the drinking water supply for residents in both the city and Westchester.
“This scientific data supports my position of the last 18 months and the work of the City Council, including numerous hearings and the passage of a Council resolution earlier this month, in bringing attention to this critical issue,” said Gennaro, who heads the Council’s Environmental Protection Committee.
The Dec. 23 report commissioned by Mayor Michael Bloomberg said natural gas drilling and exploration pose “unacceptable risks for more than nine million New Yorkers in the city and state.” In addition, the document that essentially pits the Bloomberg administration against Gov. David Paterson, who has said he favors drilling, said drilling would create a substantial risk of chemical contamination to the water supply.
“New York City has invested $1.5 billion to protect the watershed and prevent degradation of the water supply,” DEP Commissioner Steven Lawitts said. “The known and unknown impacts associated with drilling simply cannot be justified.”
Paterson this fall said the state’s gas reserves present “an opportunity for the state to unlock substantial economic value while helping to achieve a key energy policy objective of importance to the state’s energy security.”
At the end of September, the state Department of Environmental Conservation released its draft environmental impact statement on the natural gas drilling activities in the watershed.
The statement did not ban gas drilling, but did set rules as to where wells may be drilled and requires gas companies to publicly disclose which chemicals they use while extracting the gas.
The city’s report echoed the sentiments of the Council’s resolution passed in November, which asked the federal government to better regulate the practice of hydraulic fracturing — a process of extracting natural gas that entails injecting up to 5 million gallons of water laced with chemicals into the ground at high pressure to break the rock.
This method has been criticized by city government officials and environmentalists.
Last summer, the U.S. Land Management Bureau documented that groundwater in Sublette County, Wyo., which has one of the country’s largest natural gas fields and where hydraulic fracturing is commonly employed, had been contaminated with benzene, a substance that has been linked to cancer and nervous system disorders.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.