By Heather Grossmann
MANHATTAN — A proposal by the state government to drill for natural gas near New York's watershed has enraged Manhattan politicians, including Borough President Scott Stringer, who claims the city's water supply could be in danger.
Stringer, who has been touring community board meetings across the borough to spread his message, also says the introduction of "hydraulic fracturing" — also referred to as "hydrofracking" — could cost New York tax payers billions.
Hydrofracking is a method gas companies use to extract natural gas from underground rock beds. A mixture of water and chemicals is blown into gas wells in order to break up the rock and allow natural gas to escape more easily.
On Friday the U.S. House of Representatives approved a provision by Congressman Maurice Hinchey (NY-22) urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a new study on the dangers posed by hydraulic fracturing. The Senate is expected to follow suit in the coming days.
"While natural gas certainly has an important role in our national energy policy, it's imperative that we take every step possible to ensure that our drinking water supplies are not contaminated," Hinchey said in a statement.
Halliburton wants to use hydrofracking in New York's section of the Marcellus Shale, which also stretches through West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. But its permit has been delayed for 18 months.
Another company, the Cheapeake Energy Corporation, says it won't drill upstate, the New York Times reported.
“We are not going to develop those leases, and we are not taking any more leases, and I don’t think anybody else in the industry would dare to acquire leases in the New York City watershed,” Aubrey K. McClendon, Chesapeake Energy's CEO, told the paper.
The 489 trillion cubic feet of gas located under the rock formation is enough to supply the entire United States for 20 years, a lucrative proposition for New York. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation is holding hearings on new laws that would regulate fracking.
Using fracking in New York has angered environmentalists and residents who worry that there is potential for chemicals to be mixed with the water supply serving 8 million New York City residents.
At a recent meeting in East Harlem, Stringer told Community Board 11 that if the drilling contaminated New York City’s drinking water, it would cost taxpayers between $10 billion and $30 billion to build a purification system.
“If we polluted the water, where do you think they would build a filtration plant? On Park Avenue?” Stringer asked sarcastically. Community board members followed up by saying that the plant would most likely be built in a low-income neighborhood, such as East Harlem.
Stringer said that the cost of a filtration plant wasn't the only consideration for the neighborhood. He said there were also serious health issues to consider.
“The reality is that these fluids have polluted water streams all over the country," he said.
Stringer's hyperbole has some anecdotal backing. Last month, Cabot Oil and Gas was ordered to stop drilling in Pennsylvania because of a chemical spill. There have also been complaints of contaminated water by residents in Wyoming and Colorado.
Earlier in the year, Councilwoman Jessica Lappin, who represents the Upper East Side, introduced legislation encouraging Congress to pass the FRAC Act, a law that would require energy companies to disclose the chemicals used in the fracking process.
“New York’s supply of clean, safe drinking water must be protected against toxic chemicals,” Lappin said in a written statement.
The release stated that 65 of the chemicals suspected of being used have been declared hazardous by the federal government and have been linked to organ failure, rare tumors and leukemia.
Roughly 9 percent of the Marcellus Shale located in New York sits beneath the state’s watershed, which provides the city with 90 percent of its drinking water. Because of an exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act, gas companies like Halliburton are not required to reveal the names or concentrations of the estimated 250-plus chemicals used in fracking.
Some politicians are in favor of hydraulic fracking, citing the economic advantages to the cash-strapped state. Stringer acknowledges this benefit.
“Clearly in this tough economic time, the notion that we could realize all of this money from drilling is certainly appealing,” he admitted at a packed Community Board 1 meeting in lower Manhattan Tuesday night.
But he believes that drilling in the Marcellus Shale is not the answer.
Stringer will continue to visit community boards to discuss fracking—he is calling his campaign “Kill the Drill,” with the unofficial subtitle “so there ain’t no spill”—and he is urging community members to come to a public hearing hosted by the DEC on Nov. 10 to discuss their latest report on the issue.