As controversy continues to boil over whether New York’s State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) should permit new natural gas development in the watershed that provides the drinking water supply for approximately nine million people; a county health department technician is challenging DEC’s contention that the industry is well-regulated and generally clean. Officials in western New York’s Chautauqua County tallied 53 pollution incidents related to the industry between 1983 and 2008. Some involved contamination of drinking water.
Environmental and community groups have sharply criticized a state environmental impact study generally declaring that regulators can move ahead to permit drilling without significant environmental or health risk. New York City, concerned about the potential impact of the industry on the city’s roughly 1,600-square-mile watershed in the Catskill Mountains and upper Delaware River basin, commissioned its own review that suggested a significant risk of water pollution from a practice called “fracking.”
Also known as hydro fracturing, the practice sends water, chemicals, and sand at high pressure down a well bore and into surrounding rock. The small fractures the practice creates unlock trapped reserves. But fracking also uses large quantities of water and some of it is polluted by up to 60 contaminants at the end of the process.
The Marcellus Shale formation, which spans eastern Ohio, West Virginia and portions of Pennsylvania and New York, may have reserves sufficient to feed U.S. demand for several years. Industry journals have been enthusiastic about the trillion-dollar potential.
Supported by Governor David Paterson, natural gas development could bring in millions of dollars to ease the state’s mammoth budget deficit. But in January Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter Chair Susan Lawrence said the state should go back to the drawing board to produce:
“…a true working plan that will cover the cumulative impacts of all aspects of the proposed massive drilling. This is absolutely critical to protect precious water supplies, other natural resources, and public health in our state.”