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Stories from DEP is a collection of feature articles
published in DEP's internal newsletter, Weekly Pipeline.
This article was originally published March 30, 2010.

Natural Gas Drilling in the Watershed

New York City’s upstate watershed is simply staggering: everyday, it provides nine million New Yorkers with about 90% of their daily drinking water, or about one billion gallons. And to protect the water itself, DEP has made massive investments throughout the watershed. These investments have paid off: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded DEP with an historic ten-year Filtration Avoidance Determination (FAD), which testifies to DEP’s comprehensive watershed protection program. New York is one of only five large municipalities to be recognized with a FAD.

The land surrounding the watershed is a big part of the reason New York received that FAD. Most experts agree that protecting the land around a watershed is the best way to preserve the water itself. The City already owns about 137,000 acres in the upstate watershed; together with State-owned and other protected areas, this creates an ecological buffer that naturally protects the safety of our source waters.

Maintaining the integrity of that buffer is why DEP and several other State and federal agencies are working to make sure that the natural gas drilling that has been proposed for the Marcellus Shale formation does not compromise our upstate watershed. The Marcellus Shale — a mix of rock, silt, clay, and other materials — plunges to 2,000 feet underground, and is a potential source of natural gas.

To extract the natural gas that is bound up in that deep formation, gas and oil companies would use a technique called hydraulic fracturing, or “hydro-fracking.” The technique blasts water, sand, and other chemicals deep into the earth, creating the potential for groundwater contamination. Together with effects of the pressure on fractured formation and underground infrastructure, the other potential impacts include spills from the storage, use and disposal of chemicals and “produced” water, the construction of thousands of well pads, hundreds of thousands of truck trips, surface water extraction, and air pollution.

“DEP has been in the forefront of conducting an objective, science-based analysis of this type of gas drilling and extraction. Our conclusion, after an exhaustive yearlong analysis, was that the current technology creates too many risks to our water supply and infrastructure that are not addressed by the State’s proposal. We simply can’t gamble with the water supply for nine million New Yorkers,” says Carter Strickland, the Deputy Commissioner for Sustainability.

Following DEP’s analysis, other governmental entities have cautioned against the State’s proposal for gas drilling. Three months ago, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo released a 128-page report saying that the State should consider banning any drilling in lands that feed into New York City’s water supply. The EPA also submitted comments against the State’s proposal. Soon, the EPA will begin studying hydro-fracking’s “effects on water quality and public health” , and several United States Congressmen have drafted legislation that would compel the drilling industry to identify the chemicals they use to dig. Finally, the Water Research Foundation will hold workshops to analyze the effects of natural gas drilling, providing DEP with additional insight and critical analysis.

DEP will soon roll out a new feature on our own website that discusses this important issue. We’ll update this feature regularly with reports, articles, and studies. Please take a look and tell your friends and family. Once you’ve visited, write your elected officials: we need everyone to understand why our watershed is so important, and why this proposal is so dangerous.

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