Testimony of Paul V. Rush, P.E.
Deputy Commissioner, Bureau of Water Supply
New York City Department of Environmental Protection
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
November 30, 2011
High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement
Good afternoon. I am Paul Rush, deputy commissioner of the Bureau of Water Supply in the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on natural gas drilling, a subject of vital interest to the City of New York (the City). In the interest of time, I will summarize the content of our extensive comments contained in the letter we will be submitting to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) before the close of the comment period.
The City greatly appreciates and supports the proposed ban on natural gas drilling utilizing high-volume hydraulic fracturing (high-volume hydrofracking) within the New York City (NYC) drinking water watershed. We commend New York State and the Department of Environmental Conservation for stepping up to protect this vital resource. Balancing environmental and public health concerns with the need for adequate energy resources and economic development is a complex and challenging issue – not only in New York but throughout the nation.
As you know the New York City water supply system provides high quality drinking water to nearly half the population of the State of New York – over eight million people in New York City and one million people in upstate counties. The Marcellus shale underlies the entire West-of-Hudson portion of the New York City water supply, which typically provides over 90% of the City’s drinking water. The proposed ban on high-volume hydrofracking within the NYC watershed addresses a large proportion of the issues the City has previously raised in connection with the environmental review of these activities.
The most significant remaining issue, given the proposed prohibition of high-volume hydrofracking in the watershed itself, is the protection of the City’s water supply infrastructure. Protection of the dams and tunnels is just as critical as protection of the watershed, and the same reasoning that supports a ban in the watershed applies to infrastructure. The sheer scale of the City’s system warrants special protection. In particular, given the size of the system and the millions of people who rely on it, full mitigation of the impacts from regulatory violations, operator error or accidents even under the best-managed system of natural gas exploration would simply present untenable risks. The specific risks to the City’s tunnels, which are lined with unreinforced concrete, include damage from direct penetration, differential pressures, microseismic activity and impacts from migration of fluids and/or gas. Rather than a prohibition on drilling, the revised draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) merely provides for coordination with the City on wells within 1,000 feet of City tunnels, which only addresses damage from direct penetration of the tunnel.
In 2008 the City hired the joint venture of Hazen & Sawyer / Leggette, Brashears & Graham to conduct a balanced, objective assessment of the realistic impacts on water quality, water quantity, and water supply infrastructure. The City recently added Hager-Richter Geosciences to the Joint Venture project team to focus on potential impacts to the water supply infrastructure from microseismicity and reactivation of faults. Their technical report indicates that recent studies on fractures and potential faults, as well as existing information on joint patterns, support the earlier conclusion that the area around the water supply infrastructure is more fractured and faulted than the SGEIS portrays. Technical reports have also been released recently that directly link hydraulic fracturing to small earthquakes in Blackpool, England and potentially in Oklahoma. The SGEIS concludes that the magnitude of microseismic events is too small to be an issue. This may be true with respect to surface structures like houses. However, the City’s infrastructure is located deep underground.
Given the identified risks to the NYC water supply infrastructure, the 1,000-foot zone proposed in the SGEIS for enhanced coordination with the City is inadequate to protect the water supply.
Even if no high-volume drilling takes place within the watershed, the City remains concerned about other risks to the water supply watershed from natural gas-related activities. The actual level of activity that can be expected is unclear at this time. However, the area immediately south of the watershed is expected by many to be a productive zone for the Marcellus shale and therefore the region, including the watershed, is likely to experience impacts from waste disposal, spills, and road use.
Other risks we will address in our comment letter include: the potential for treatment of drilling wastewater within the watershed; impacts from solid waste handling and disposal; and potential chemical spills and damage to City-owned roads and bridges due to increased truck traffic in the watershed.
In closing, we again thank DEC for the tremendous protection that a ban on high-volume hydrofracking provides to the consumers of the NYC water supply. We look forward to discussing these remaining issues in the future as partners in our efforts to protect this invaluable resource.