By Anna Gustafson
State Sen. Joseph Addabbo’s (D-Howard Beach) bill calling for a moratorium on natural gas drilling near the upstate water supply may come up for a vote in the Senate this week, and Queens and city politicians said the legislation’s passage is crucial for the health and safety of 9 million city and Westchester County residents.
The bill would stop any drilling in the watershed, which provides drinking water for the city, until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency completes its study of the effects of natural gas drilling on water and public health. The study began in March and is expected to end within two years.
The legislation would rule out the possibility that companies could use 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.
“Let me be clear: I am not against drilling, but I am totally against a process that certainly has questionable ingredients that should not be in our water,” Addabbo said. “Imagine not being able to use your water for fear of drinking carcinogens, plastics and toxins. The danger of hydraulic fracturing so close to the New York City watershed is easy to imagine. Toxic byproduct can seep into our drinking water and turn our once pristine water into a severe health risk.”
According to a report prepared by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, seven states in the country have experienced serious incidents of water contamination and explosions near hydraulic fracturing sites.
The method has been criticized by city government officials and environmentalists who often cite a 2008 report from the U.S. Land Management Bureau that said groundwater in Sublette County, Wyo., which has one of the country’s largest natural gas fields and where hydraulic fracturing was commonly employed, was contaminated with benzene, a substance that has been linked to cancer and nervous system disorders.
Addabbo said his concern over natural gas drilling upstate became more urgent after he met with Josh Fox, the writer and director of the movie “Gasland,” an environmental documentary chronicling the natural gas boom. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and landed a Special Documentary prize.
City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) is interviewed in the film. Gennaro, a longtime advocate against hydraulic fracturing near the watershed, has thrown his support behind Addabbo’s legislation.
Hydraulic fracturing “is completely unregulated by the federal government and poses unacceptable risks to drinking water supplies throughout the country,” said Gennaro, chairman of the Council Environmental Protection Committee.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) is also backing Addabbo’s legislation. A version of Addabbo’s bill is being sponsored by state Assemblyman Steven Englebright (D-East Setauket).
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.