The Must-Drill Mentality Is Threatening NYC's Water

More than half the residents of New York State -- those who live in the Big Apple -- rely on a fabled watershed for their supply of pure, fresh water. Dotted with reservoirs, the watershed is so well protected that none of the water needs to be filtered -- it just cascades through aqueducts, gigantic underground tunnels, a network of mains and pipes and out of the faucets of the nine million residents in the city. That water supply is now in danger of contamination.

It turns out that a big chunk of something called the Marcellus Shale formation sits underneath the 2000 square mile watershed, and trapped inside the formation is a trillion dollars worth of natural gas. Farmers who used to lease the mineral rights to their land for a dollar an acre saw the price rise to $200 an acre, and then over the last year to $2500 an acre. With permits in hand from the state, energy companies are drilling the first wells in New York.

Thank goodness New York City Councilman James F. Gennaro is raising a ruckus with help from Riverkeeper and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The bad news is that only four reporters showed up to a press conference they held recently. The good news is that one of them was Peter Applebome of the New York Times. His latest story on "the biggest environmental issue almost no one in New York is paying attention to" ran in the Sunday metro section.

It's unclear why editors aren't running the story on the front page. It's national news. The Marcellus formation is not the only fossil fuel deposit being eyed for massive exploitation in these times of soaring fuel prices. And the forces at work and the dire consequences which await if the rush to an endless fossil future isn't stopped can already be witnessed all over the American West.

That's why landowners from Wyoming and Colorado are touring the Catskills, warning landowners there what will come quickly on the heels of fat royalty checks. Here's how Applebome described what they had to say to New Yorkers:


They said those royalty checks came at a huge cost: polluted air and water, industrial noise, well blowouts, toxic chemicals leaching into groundwater and wells and a fracturing of communities. Of paramount importance, many said, would be protecting the New York City watershed, an issue that could touch off regulatory and environmental disputes.
And here's Jill Morrison of the Powder River Basin Resource Council of Sheridan, Wyo., in her own words:
There are problems and challenges that people haven't even conceived of. And I can tell you that those of us who have gone through it know it has consumed the last 10 or 15 years of people's lives. I can't express enough the profound impacts this will have on people's lives, on land, water, air, wildlife. You need to do an enormous amount of planning to get out in front of it, because this is the richest industry in the world, and they're going to come whether you want them or not.
So why is it that the only one raising a ruckus is a City Councilman from Queens? He's calling for a moratorium on drilling, and is asking the US EPA if pollution from gas drilling would require the city to start filtering its water for the first time in history. A filtration plant would cost taxpayers a mere $10 or $12 billion. Upstate communities are desperate for new economic activity, and right under their feet is a tempting answer to their economic prayers. But Applebome describes the trade-off this way:
Sophisticated new wells using hydraulic fracturing use a million gallons of chemically treated water to break up subterranean shale and release the gas inside. Over the next two decades, there could be thousands of wells upstate.
As for Gennaro, he's making noise on an issue that has only been a topic of low-profile, back-room talk.
This is an activity that is completely and utterly inconsistent with a drinking water supply. This cannot happen. This would destroy the New York City watershed, and for what? For short-term gains on natural gas?

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