Gas Drilling Threatens City's Water Supply

A Marcellus shale well in Northwest PA - Photo courtesy of LJSTEINCO via Flickr
A Marcellus shale well in Northwest PA - Photo courtesy of LJSTEINCO via Flickr

A controversial plan to allow drilling for natural gas near a major watershed may put city dwellers at risk, says Assemblyman William Colton.

At the Gravesend/Bensonhurst pol’s request, the Department of Environmental Conservation extended the public comment period from November 30 to December 31, but they have not ruled out drilling in the area.

Natural gas drillers are sniffing out the Marcellus Shale, a titanic formation that lies below most of the Appalachian Basin and has between 168 trillion to 516 trillion cubic feet of untapped gas reserves. By comparison, New York State uses about 1.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas a year. And the reserves’ proximity to major northeastern hubs have many drilling companies salivating.

But opening up the area to drilling will also allow companies to be within the vicinity of the Catskill watershed, which provides 90 percent of the city’s unfiltered water.

Current drilling technology relies on hydraulic fracturing, which blasts underground shale with more than a million gallons of water, sand, and chemicals for each well. Colton and conservationists fear runoff from the drilling could contaminate the city’s water. If that happens, the state may have to construct a filtration plant costing upwards of $20 billion – a sum to be reflected in resident’s water bills.

Colton is still calling for another extension before the report – a draft supplemental generic environmental impact statement – is finalized. For now, though, the DEC is giving residents the opportunity to voice their concerns via an online comment system, e-mail, and public hearings.