Watershed gas drilling halted by DEC ruling

By Brian Sweeney
Natural gas drilling in New York City’s watershed will be virtually impossible because of a stringent review process announced by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued a release Friday stating that because of the unique issues related to the protection of New York City’s drinking water supply, the watershed will be excluded from the pending generic environmental review process for natural gas drilling.
This ruling also applies to the unfiltered watershed that provides water for the city of Syracuse. These watersheds will be subject to a separate review process for the use of high-volume horizontal drilling needed to extract gas from the Marcellus shale formation.
DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis said applications to drill in these watersheds would require a case-by-case environmental review process to establish whether appropriate measures to mitigate potential impacts can be developed.
As a result of the DEC’s decision, applicants for natural gas drilling permits using high-volume horizontal drilling in these watersheds will not be able to utilize the SGEIS.
Instead, gas companies will need to meet special requirements relating to the unfiltered surface water supply, including conducting individual environmental reviews to address the continuation of the Filtration Avoidance Determinations (FAD).
“The DEC will work closely with the state Department of Health, the local watershed communities, and with the cities benefiting from the FADs to develop the additional drilling requirements that may be applicable in the FAD watersheds,” stated Commissioner Grannis.
New York City and Syracuse use unfiltered drinking water from surface-water sources. These watersheds are subject to FADs that present distinct land disturbance and usage issues independent of DEC’s ongoing review of the environmental safety of the high-volume hydraulic fracturing process.

Public response
The DEC received more than14,000 comments on the draft SGEIS, and is in the process of evaluating those comments and finalizing the SGEIS.
Catskill Mountainkeeper, a community-based environmental advocacy organization, has been one of the leading advocates of a gas drilling ban in the watershed. The group feels that the DEC’s announcement falls far short of this goal.
Executive Director Ramsay Adams said, “This is an attempt to take the watershed issue off the table without actually dealing with it, to fast-track drilling for the rest of us. And it’s not even protecting the watersheds. It’s bad on both levels. It’s a really unfortunate turn of events, because it doesn't address any of the fundamental problems.”
Catskill Mountainkeeper is asking the governor and the DEC to delay the issuance of any final report until all the scientific evidence (including the results of the recently commissioned report by the EPA) can be thoroughly reviewed and evaluated. The group also requested that a second draft be issued so the public has the opportunity to review and comment.
“The stakes are too high and the potential danger is too great to do otherwise,” Mr. Adams commented.
DEC officials said there are 58 pending applications for horizontal drilling in the Marcellus shale; no applications are located in either the New York City or the Skaneateles Lake (Syracuse) watersheds.