Volume 80, Number 11 | August 12 - 18, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Senate votes to extend fracking ban for 10 months

By Albert Amateau

In response to demands by local elected officials and environmental advocates worried about the impact of natural gas drilling on New York City’s drinking water supply, the state Senate on Tues., Aug. 3, voted to extend the state moratorium to May 2011 on issuing gas drilling permits.

The state Assembly is likely to pass the moratorium extension after the new session begins on Sept. 15. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver issued a statement supporting the moratorium the day after the Senate’s 48-to-9 vote.

For more than two years, elected officials and activists have been concerned about the effect on the supply of drinking water by hydrofracture gas drilling in the Marcellus shale formation 3,000 feet below the surface of New York’s Southern Tier of counties as well as adjacent counties in Pennsylvania.

The process, known as fracking, involves drilling into the formation and horizontally injecting millions of gallons of water laced with highly toxic chemicals under ultra-high pressure to fracture the shale and release natural gas trapped in the rock.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation last year issued an 800-page draft generic environmental impact statement on proposed rules for hydrofracture drilling that critics say were largely written by the drilling industry.

But concern about the impact on the Catskill-Delaware watershed that supplies 90 percent of the city’s drinking water prompted D.E.C. in April to exclude the watersheds of New York City and Syracuse from the review. Instead, the agency is requiring drillers in the two city’s watersheds to submit environmental reviews for each well to determine whether mitigation could be developed for potential impact.

The April ruling would make it extremely expensive to drill in the watersheds, but elected officials, including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and state Senator Tom Duane, called for an outright statewide fracking ban.

There are currently 58 applications for hydrofracture drilling in the state, none of them in the New York City or Syracuse watersheds.

On Aug. 4, Silver’s statement regarding the state moratorium extension was similar to one he issued in response to the April decision that made watershed drilling impractical.

“I strongly believe New York State should take no further action toward the approval of permits in any drinking water area anywhere in the state until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency completes its study of hydrofracking and companies are required to fully disclose all chemicals used in the drilling process,” Silver’s statement last week said. “There is nothing more important than the safety of our water supply and protecting the health and safety of our citizens. We simply cannot move forward until we have all the facts, and we will continue to carefully monitor the actions of the Department of Environmental Conservation,” Silver said.

Environmentalists have long been concerned about the chemicals added to the millions of gallons of fracking water. Drilling companies have largely refused to reveal all the chemicals, saying they constituted trade secrets.

The federal E.P.A. has been holding hearings in Texas, Colorado and Pennsylvania over the past several months on developing a scope of work for a $1.9 million federal study of the hydrofracking impact on groundwater. The next E.P.A. fracking hearing is Thurs., Aug. 12, in Binghamton, N.Y., which is in the Southern Tier.

Over the past few years, in northeastern Pennsylvania, water supplies in several communities have been contaminated by natural gas and fracking water recovered from gas wells. According to a report by the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association, gas drillers in the state committed 1,435 violations in the past 30 months, of which 952 were likely to harm the environment.

In July, the Delaware River Basin Commission — which sets policy on water use in the river and includes New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania commissioners — met in West Trenton, N.J.; at the meeting, fracking opponents confronted fracking supporters, the latter mostly property owners who hope to earn big money leasing land to drilling companies.

According to a Philadelphia Inquirer article, one property owner at the West Trenton meeting carried a sign that read, “I Support Safe Drilling — Kiss My Gas,” and an anti-drilling advocate held up a sign reading, “Not So Fast, Natural Gas.”

A New York Common Cause report said that, in 2009, the gas industry contributed $650,000 to campaign funds of state elected officials, and that from January to July of this year, the industry put more than $1 million into state campaign funds.


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