EPA States that Plan to Permit Natural Gas Drilling in New York City Watershed Poses Risks to Water Supply
On December 31, 2009, EPA stated that a draft state plan to permit natural gas drilling within the watershed that supplies drinking water to New York City poses risks to the “long-term maintenance of a high-quality unfiltered water supply” for 9 million people. EPA expressed its concerns in written comments to DEC, which in September 2009 issued a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for natural gas drilling by hydrologic fracturing and other extraction methods in the Marcellus Shale formation.
The Marcellus formation extends from Ohio and West Virginia northeast into Pennsylvania and southern New York , where it lies beneath the entire Catskill-Delaware system of the City’s watershed. The formation’s 18,700 square miles in New York include all 1,585 square miles of the Catskill-Delaware system.
While acknowledging mitigation proposals in the state’s draft, EPA still expressed “serious reservations” on whether gas drilling would be consistent with the watershed protection regimen that allows the City to avoid costly construction of a filtration plant.
In July 2007, EPA gave the City a 10-year extension to a long-standing filtration avoidance determination based on agreements reached with the state, the City, and upstate watershed towns. EPA further expressed concerns about drilling risks to water quality throughout the state, not just in New York City’s drinking water. Urging better water quality oversight, EPA renewed its 2008 offer to join with the state and City in an enhanced, coordinated approach for the watershed. The agency also urged the state to consult with Indian Nations in New York, noting that “representatives of virtually every Indian Nation expressed serious opposition to hydrofracturing” at a November 2009 annual meeting with EPA. In addition to the coordinated federal-state- city oversight process, EPA also recommended that DEC join with the state Health Department in evaluating drilling impacts.