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Testimony of Carter H. Strickland, Jr.
Commissioner, New York City Department of Environmental Protection

Committee on Environmental Protection
Council of the City of New York

February 17, 2012


Oversight - Examination and Discussion of NYC Department of Environmental Protection’s Comments on NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s Revised Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing


Good afternoon, Chairman Gennaro and Members. I am Carter Strickland, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Thank you for the opportunity to testify today on DEP’s comments on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC’s) Revised Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (RDSGEIS) on high volume hydraulic fracturing and New York City’s (the City’s) drinking water infrastructure. I also want to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your vigorous advocacy in protecting the invaluable resources and system that provide the highest quality drinking water in the nation to New York City every day. I am joined today by Dr. Kimberlee Kane, Special Assistant for Watershed Protection Programs in the Bureau of Water Supply.
When Deputy Commissioner Paul Rush testified before this committee last September, DEP was reviewing the draft study it had commissioned to better understand potential impacts to the water supply infrastructure posed by high volume hydraulic fracturing (high volume hydrofracking). In January 2012, DEP submitted its comment letter on the RDSGEIS to DEC along with the technical report that is the subject of this hearing. Both the comment letter and the technical report are posted on our website.

As Deputy Commissioner Rush testified, we are very pleased that DEC proposed banning high volume hydrofracking in the watershed, which addressed many of the concerns we raised in 2009. Given the ban, our January 2012 comments focus on the potential impacts to the City’s water supply infrastructure, particularly our dams and tunnels. Protecting that infrastructure is just as critical as protection of the watershed itself; both are critical elements of the City’s water supply.

Before I speak about our infrastructure, however, I’d like to comment on one aspect of the ban on drilling within the New York City drinking water watershed. The City strongly supports the proposed ban on high volume hydrofracking, which will prevent industrialization of the watershed that supplies water to nine million New York State residents.

The City previously understood this environmental review to apply to all horizontal drilling and all hydrofracking, but based on recent conversations with DEC staff we now understand it to be limited to high volume hydraulic fracturing (both horizontal and vertical) and not to low volume hydraulic fracturing (LVHF), whether horizontal or vertical. DEC defines high volume hydraulic fracturing based on water usage and designates high volume as using more than 300,000 gallons per well. DEC’s position is that low volume hydraulic fracturing, using less than 300,000 gallons per well, is already covered under the 1992 GEIS. While DEC has stated that it does not believe LVHF will occur in New York State to any significant degree, DEP remains concerned that LVHF wells could prove economically viable along the edges of the watershed – particularly if they can be re-fracked – because of their close proximity to productive areas outside of the watershed that may be developed with high volume horizontal wells. LVHF in the watershed, if it were in fact to occur, could have significant adverse impacts that were not considered in the 1992 GEIS. For these reasons, we have requested that the Final SGEIS commit to further environmental review in the event that there is any indication that LVHF may take place, beyond an occasional isolated instance, in the New York City watershed.

Returning to the RDSGEIS and the issue of water supply infrastructure, in preparation for our comments on the RDSGEIS, we hired Hager Richter Geosciences to evaluate the risk to our infrastructure, review our past recommendations and assess the protections proposed in the RDSGEIS. Hager-Richter (H-R) is an engineering and geophysical services company in the northeastern U.S. H-R provides a broad range of geophysical services for geotechnical engineering, environmental, and water supply projects.

The major findings of their technical report are:

  • The region around the tunnels is more faulted and fractured than the RDSGEIS discloses and analyzes, and some of these faults cross our tunnels.  Also, subsurface faults may exist underground without any surface expression.
  • Microseismicity (defined as less than 1 on the Richter scale) from hydrofracking is not likely a threat to the tunnels. But induced earthquakes (1–3 on the Richter scale) generated from subsurface migration of fluids could pose a risk to the tunnels’ unreinforced concrete liners, potentially causing liner collapse, leaks, and less efficient transport, but not catastrophic tunnel collapse. Induced earthquakes from injection wells are a well-known phenomenon; however, induced earthquakes directly linked to hydrofracking have only recently been confirmed in reports from England and Oklahoma.
  • H-R concurred that the RDSGEIS 1,000-foot infrastructure buffer is inadequate, and that the previous statistical model used to develop the seven-mile buffer recommendation is a reasonable approach.
  • H-R did not specify an appropriate infrastructure buffer distance and stated that what constitutes an acceptable level of risk of damage to the critical water supply infrastructure is a matter of policy, not geophysics.

We need to develop protections for critical resources like the City’s water supply infrastructure while balancing the needs for new energy sources and economic growth. Based on our independent expert review of the risks of high volume hydrofracking and the City’s analysis of the potential consequences to our infrastructure, including the time and cost of repairing liner collapse in our tunnels, the City is recommending a hybrid approach that retains our initial seven-mile buffer recommendation but with some modifications. I will outline our conclusions regarding buffers around infrastructure first and around dams second.  Our comments took into account both the risks and the potential consequences of impacts from high volume hydrofracking near our infrastructure.

In our January 2012 comments, the City recommended the following:

  • A seven-mile Infrastructure Exclusion Zone, where no high volume hydrofracking would be permitted, around the Delaware and Catskill Aqueducts that begin at the Rondout and Ashokan Reservoirs, respectively. These two aqueducts currently carry 100% of the water to New York City. Even non-catastrophic leaks or liner collapse would have significant consequences for DEP’s ability to meet in-city and upstate water demand, and would be expensive and time consuming to repair.
  • A two-mile Infrastructure Exclusion Zone around other tunnels overlying the Marcellus shale deposits (East Delaware Tunnel, West Delaware Tunnel, Neversink Tunnel) because damage to one of those tunnels would affect the City’s ability to access water from only a single reservoir. DEP’s water supply system has the flexibility to withstand an outage of these tunnels during a repair process.
  • An Infrastructure Enhanced Protection Zone between two and seven miles around the tunnels. All drilling applications within the Infrastructure Enhanced Protection Zone should require site specific review of proposed high volume hydrofracking wells, additional permit conditions, and the City’s approval.
  • Both the Infrastructure Exclusion Zone and the Infrastructure Enhanced Protection Zone should be measured from the tunnel to the tip of the lateral well bore, rather than from the well pad.

This proposal would put an additional 327 square miles off limits to drilling in the Marcellus Shale in addition to the watershed ban.  However, 15% of this area (50 sq. mi.) would already be protected by other proposed prohibitions (that is, the area is within State parks or other State land, or is within a primary aquifer), meaning that the net impact is 277 square miles, or an additional 1.5% of the total area of Marcellus Shale deposits in New York State.

With regard to our dams, the SGEIS proposed a 4,000-foot no-drill buffer, measured from a well pad, around the City watershed boundary and the dams. The City completed an assessment of the ability of the dams to withstand seismic events under prior contracts. The potential magnitude of seismic events known to be triggered by high volume hydrofracking (i.e., magnitude of 1–3 on the Richter scale) is well within the ranges that our dams can safely withstand. However, the City is concerned about potential structural impacts to the dams in the situation where a drill pad would be outside of the 4,000-foot buffer around the watershed proposed by DEC, but the horizontal section of the well would extend closer to or even underneath a dam. These concerns include the possibility of migration of high volumes of fluids near our dams, from directions not anticipated in the design of the dams, and other changes to the hydraulic regime.

The City is recommending that a site-specific review be conducted when the horizontal section of the well comes within the 4,000-foot buffer proposed by DEC around any part of the dam. Additional permit conditions within this area should include enhanced subsurface geophysical surveys conducted prior to drilling, and City review and approval of permits.

Taken on the whole, if we add up the City’s proposal for a no-drill area – including otherwise unprotected lands in the watershed, the 4,000-foot buffer zone around dams, and the two-mile buffer zone from tunnels and seven-mile buffer zone from major aqueducts – only 1,511 square miles of otherwise unprotected land would be taken out of production at this time. This is 8.1% of New York State’s Marcellus shale footprint. Given the significant risks to the water supply from damage to the City’s infrastructure and the 50% of the state’s residents who depend on our drinking water, the City believes that our proposed measures are reasonable and prudent.

We will continue to discuss our concerns with DEC and work to ensure that the best decisions will be made to protect our water supply and its infrastructure.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I would be glad to answer any questions.

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