Saturday, April 24, 2010

ProPublica: New York Puts Brakes on Drilling in NYC Watershed, Clears Way for Upstate Wells by Next Spring

by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica - April 23, 2010 1:36 pm EDT

New York State environment officials shoved a cumbersome task off their plates Friday when they announced that their controversial environmental review of natural gas drilling in New York's Marcellus Shale would not apply to drilling inside New York City's 1,900-square-mile watershed.

The decision appears to protect the unfiltered water supply for nine million residents -- as well as another unfiltered watershed near Syracuse, N.Y. -- because energy companies will be required to undergo a separate and exhaustive review for each well they propose to drill and hydraulically fracture inside the area, a hurdle that may amount to a de facto ban.

But it also removes a significant political and scientific obstacle to completing the two-year statewide review process, paving the way for drilling to proceed across much of the rest of the state as soon as next spring.

"Clearly there will be less analysis required to finish the job now that we are going to be focusing on the environmental safety of the process and not getting into the unique components of the FAD watersheds," said New York State Department of Environmental Conservation assistant commissioner Stuart Gruskin, referring to the Filtration Avoidance Determination, the federal permit that allows New York City's water to be delivered untreated. "We are not giving special treatment to those FAD watersheds or deciding that it is unsafe to drill there -- rather we are pulling them out and recognizing that there are a distinct set of issues."

The state has received more than 14,000 comments relating to its generic statewide environmental review and has struggled to complete another draft of that review while coping with questions about the New York City watershed, and a shortage of staff to complete the research. By simplifying the scope of the study, state officials hope they can finish the larger review, known as the SGEIS, by the end of the year. Then they'll begin considering the 58 drilling applications for outside the watersheds that have already been submitted, soon after. More>>>