Beneath much of the New York City Watershed and extending over numerous states lies the Marcellus Shale, an expansive mineral reserve and sedimentary rock formation thousands of feet below the earth's surface. As the appropriate technology for extraction has become available, oil and gas companies see the prospects of tapping into this sizeable, untouched reserve for new fuel options.
Recently, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued a draft environmental impact statement (DSGEIS) for the regulation of natural gas drilling that would occur in the state of New York if the draft were to be finalized. Since natural gas releases fewer pollutants into our atmosphere than oil or coal, the likelihood of natural gas drilling in the future is high. But does the probable damage done to the water supply outweigh these atmospheric benefits?
Since the New York City Watershed supplies safe, quality drinking water to nine million residents of NY on a daily basis, the potential risks associated with hydraulic fracturing (the technical term for the process by which natural gas drilling occurs) are likely to be very great. This method of fracturing the rock formation to access the natural gas entails infusing toxic chemicals, sand, and water into the shale, which is then extracted back through the surface along with any natural gas that is found. Although the certainty of contaminated emissions from the drilling seeping into NY's drinking water supply is unknown, previous evidence of gas drilling accidents and spillover contaminations in Wyoming, Texas, Colorado, and Pennsylvania reveal that NY's drinking water could be in trouble if the drilling were to transpire, as described by Riverkeeper in its Industrial Gas Drilling Reporter.
If it comes down to preserving a valuable water supply on which New Yorkers have depended continuously, or drilling for natural gas that may or may not be found and could endanger the aforementioned drinking supply, I think the appropriate choice is clear. NY has always prided itself on having some of the highest quality, naturally-filtered drinking water in the world. Why put such an indispensable resource at risk?
The public comment period for the DEC draft is open until November 30th, 2009. To view the DSGEIS draft in full and for instructions on how to submit comments, I urge you to visit http://www.dec.ny.gov/energy/58440.html.