The New York City Department of Environmental Protection recently released an important impact assessment report on environmental consequences of Marcellus shale drilling activities. This report and the City’s comments on the State of New York’s dSGEIS are described in a press release by the NY City DEP, entitled “Department of Environmental Protection Calls for Prohibition on Drilling in the New York City Watershed.”

Highlights of the report include, as in the title, a ban on drilling in the New York City watershed; as well as withdrawal of the dSGEIS, implying that the the State ought not act to permit drilling for both technical and legal reasons.

I’m still studying the report, but the report (pdf here) represents a significant investment in resources.  In other words, the city invested a lot of money in developing a very thorough study by a good group of consultants.

Importantly, many aspects of the report apply not only to the New York City water supply watershed area, but to other areas affected by Marcellus shale drilling activities, as well.

Some details from the press release:

Natural gas drilling and exploration are incompatible with the operation of New York City’s unfiltered water supply system and pose unacceptable risks for more than nine million New Yorkers in the City and State. … After reviewing the report, DEP has called for a prohibition on any drilling in the New York City watershed, located upstate.

In addition, in comments submitted yesterday, the City called on DEC to rescind the draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS) that was released on September 30, 2009 because it does not adequately address the risks of drilling in the New York City watershed, which supplies drinking water for nine million New Yorkers.

As part of their review, DEP’s … found the following risks:
Industrialization: Gas drilling brings with it an industrial infrastructure with inherent environmental risks: as many as 3,000 to 6,000 wells would result in millions of truck trips, thousands of acres of site clearing and grading, millions of tons of fracking chemicals, and millions of tons of waste from produced water, all of which can contaminate water.
Chemical Contamination: The chemicals used as part of the process are injected into subsurface rock formations and can travel along underground fissures to ground water and ultimately streams that feed reservoirs; extensive subsurface fracture systems and known “brittle” geological structures exist that commonly extend over a mile in length, and as far as seven miles in the vicinity of NYC infrastructure. In addition, the resulting wastewater – potentially one billion gallons per year – can also contaminate water supplies. Currently, there is no way to locally treat this wastewater.
Infrastructure Damage: High-volume hydraulic fracking could damage the City’s water supply infrastructure; of greatest concern are our tunnels which are located both inside and outside the New York City watershed. Naturally occurring fracture systems have been demonstrated to transmit fluid and pressure, as evidenced by saline water and methane seeps encountered at grade and in shallow formations near the City’s infrastructure during and since its construction.

In addition to explaining the impacts and risks identified in the Report, the City states in its comments that the dSGEIS does not meet the requirements of the New York State Environmental Conservation Law  … Also, a separate impact assessment on public health is needed given the hazardous chemicals that are proposed for use, the potential radioactivity of the waste products, and the rate and scale of the drilling and related activities. The City has previously requested that the New York State Department of Health undertake such a study.