The hydraulic fracturing method used to drill for gas trapped in shale could contaminate New York’s unfiltered water supply and require costly filtration, report says.
New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) urged state officials to ban gas drilling in the city’s watershed because of a heightened risk of water contamination and damage to water supply infrastructure, the AP reports.
The city’s acting environmental commissioner Steven Lawitts requested in a letter to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation that the state withdraw draft regulations approving the drilling, the New York Times reports.
“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 freshwater supply of nine million New Yorkers,” Lawitts said in a prepared statement.
Hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, has come under much criticism recently for polluting water supplies.
Wells in New York would be drilled 4,000 to 6,000 feet vertically and then a comparable distance horizontally. Millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals are pumped into the horizontal shafts to break up the shale and release the trapped gas. Half of the water returns to the surface having picked up dissolved solids and chemicals used in the fracturing process. The water must then be treated or injected into underground wells.
More than 1000 square miles of the Delaware and Catskill watersheds are unprotected and potentially open for drilling, according to a DEP report on the effects of hydrofracking.
The gas is trapped in a layer of rock known as Marcellus shale, which extends from New York to eastern Kentucky. The shale formation is considered the largest potential developable energy source in the United States.
Chesapeake Energy, which owns the lease for the disputed area, announced in October that it would not drill in the city’s watershed, but other gas companies have not made such a promise, the New York Times reported.
“We understand the environmental concerns, but that being said, we know without a doubt we can drill safely in any watershed,” said Scott Rotruck, vice president of Chesapeake Energy Corporation, to Voice of America.
Drilling proponents argue that hydrofracking can be safely regulated, that the U.S. needs a domestic energy source, and that the gas would bring significant revenue to poor areas of the country.
NYC officials are concerned about the drilling because, unlike most cities, New York’s water is not filtered before use.
In 1989 the city had to comply with federal Safe Drinking Water Act regulations. Since Building the filtration plants to meet the requirements would have cost $8 billion, city officials sought a cheaper solution by developing a comprehensive watershed protection program.
The city bought undeveloped land, restored degraded streams, and partnered with farmers and landowners to improve land management practices.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency waived the filtration requirement for NYC in 1993 after seeing sufficient improvement in water quality. The waiver is subject to periodic review, the most recent occurring in 2007. That review established regulations for the program through 2017, according to the DEP.
Since 1997 the city has spent nearly $1.5 billion on the watershed program. City officials contend that it would cost $10 billion to build a filtration plant if the gas drilling contaminated the water supply. The new plant would increase water rates by 30 percent, officials estimate.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton