NEW YORK (July 23, 2008) -- Half of New York’s drinking water could be contaminated by toxic pollution, unless the state adopts comprehensive safeguards for natural gas drilling before any drills break ground, according to experts at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
This critical threat comes as NY Governor Paterson signed a law (S.8169/A.10526) that makes it easier for gas companies to conduct horizontal drilling, also known as hydraulic fracturing, a relatively recent technology that allows companies to extract natural gas from traditionally difficult-to-access reserves, such as the Marcellus Shale formation that underlies the Catskill Mountains and the Southern Tier of New York State.
The law has the potential to create a massive land rush to conduct a dangerous and inadequately reviewed activity in ecologically critical portions of the state. With this method of drilling comes the risk of toxic chemicals entering the drinking water supply of 9 million New Yorkers, as well as residents of Philadelphia and other major population centers.
Horizontal drilling also has the potential to create hazardous waste discharges, increase air pollution from drilling and drilling-related diesel trucking, and disrupt ecologically sensitive areas (including the Catskill Park). The last Generic Environmental Impact Statement that analyzed gas drilling in New York was prepared in 1992, 16 years ago, before the current technology for horizontal gas drilling even existed.
A statement from NRDC New York Legislative Director Richard Schrader and Attorney Kate Sinding follows:
“New Yorkers, and all Americans, are feeling the pain of high gas prices, and while natural gas may be an important transition fuel to solve the climate crisis, it’s useless if the trade-off is toxic drinking water.
We need to measure twice and cut once. Horizontal gas drilling carries the risk contaminating the drinking water supply that serves half of the state – including all of New York City – with dangerous chemicals. Before any drills break ground, the state must be sure that these activities are safe for New Yorkers and their environment. This means a complete hands-off policy on horizontal drilling until the state takes three protective measures.
First, there needs to be a revised Generic Environmental Impact Statement ordered by the Governor that determines the effect gas drilling will have on our natural resources, including drinking water supplies, surface waters, hazardous waste generation and disposal, air quality and the sensitive ecology of the Catskills.
Second, the state needs to determine what regulatory revisions are required to establish an appropriate system for regulating the drilling to make sure it’s practiced in a way that is environmentally sound and allows for meaningful public participation.
Third, the state should identify ecologically sensitive areas of New York that should remain forever off-limits to gas drilling activities.
NRDC appreciates Governor Patterson’s commitment to preparing a revised Generic Environmental Impact Statement and looks forward to working with the Governor, his staff and the Department of Environmental Conservation in the development of comprehensive safeguards to protect drinking water and the Catskills ecology from the dangers posed by indiscriminate gas drilling in New York.”