McMahon Fights to Protect NYC's Drinking Water
On Monday, March 8, 2010, Rep. Michael E. McMahon led a group of colleagues from the New York delegation in calling for measures to protect New York City's drinking water. In a letter sent to Governor David Paterson, the Members urged that natural gas development known as hydraulic fracturing be banned in areas surrounding our drinking water supply. Rep. McMahon was joined by Reps. John J. Hall, Yvette D. Clarke, Anthony D. Weiner, Carolyn B. Maloney and José E. Serrano on the letter.
"New York City's drinking water has long been regarded as some of the best in the country," said Rep. McMahon. "Generations of New Yorkers have protected our watersheds so we can enjoy unfiltered, pure drinking water and it is critical that we do everything necessary to keep our water supply safe and clean. Without either a total ban of hydraulic fracturing or regulations that require sequestration of our drinking watersheds, we cannot guarantee that our drinking water will be safe from pollutants. As my colleagues and I reiterated in our letter, the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on our water's quality and the public's safety clearly outweighs any economic benefit that can be derived from the practice."
"It is imperative that we continue to protect New York City's water supplies from any and all pollutants that threaten the public's health. As New Yorkers, we must find a balance between ending our dependence on foreign oil and protecting our drinking water," stated Rep. Yvette Clarke. "I want to thank Rep. McMahon for taking the lead on this and I will continue to work with my colleagues in the New York delegation to address this issue."
Hydraulic fracturing is a type of natural gas drilling that could compromise the surrounding air and water quality. Since 1991, New York City has been acquiring land to expand its watersheds, thus preventing the need for a mechanical filtration system. Without protection of that land from hydraulic fracturing, however, New York City could be forced to install such a system at a cost of approximately $10 billion.
Text of the letter to Governor Paterson follows:
The Honorable David A. Paterson
Albany, New York 12224
Dear Governor Paterson:
We are writing to express our concern about the threat to New York's drinking water posed by natural gas drilling, specifically the practice of hydraulic fracturing. We encourage you and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Pete Grannis to enact regulatory guidelines that will ban the use of hydraulic fracturing in all areas which are vital to the drinking water supplies of New York City and communities in and around the Catskill/ Delaware Watersheds.
As you know, New York City is one of the few municipalities in the United States whose drinking water is not treated by an elaborate mechanical filtration system. This is only true because the City has expended over $1.5 billion since 1991 on land acquisitions, conservation easements, expanded wastewater treatment, and the creation of an innovative Watershed Agricultural Council (WAC) to obtain a waiver from the Surface Water Treatment Rule (SWTR), which otherwise would mandate filtration of our water supply. Cost estimates for construction of such a filtration system for New York City range up to $10 billion, with hundreds of millions of dollars in annual maintenance costs. The City and its Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) have gone to extraordinary lengths to preserve the unspoiled nature of the Catskill/Delaware Watersheds.
Hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale formation surrounding our watersheds puts all of this at risk. A single drilling operation has implications for air and water quality as well as the broader quality of life in affected communities. Millions of gallons of wastewater would be produced daily, ozone and other criteria pollutants would be emitted at unknown rates, and local roads would be overburdened by vastly expanded use of heavy trucks. The impact of these and other inevitable effects on a region so vital to our public health clearly outweighs any potential economic benefits.
The Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DSGEIS) submitted by the DEC is a starting point, not an end point. First and foremost, in leaving open the possibility of drilling in the watersheds, the DSGEIS endangers the drinking water of more than 9 million New Yorkers. The document makes no attempt to account for the cumulative effects of the need for new and expanded wastewater treatment facilities. More broadly, DEC ought to abide by the formal rulemaking process and not simply issue discretionary standards. A formal rulemaking would ensure transparency, consistency, and enforceability, and would prevent DEC from permitting projects on a case-by-case basis, a task for which it is under-equipped at any rate given the expected volume of permit requests.
Natural gas must be an important part of securing the clean energy future for generations of Americans. However, we must not allow gas exploration where such development would endanger the drinking water supply of so many millions of people. The bottom line is this: there is no way to ensure that New York's drinking water is safe unless the DEC sequesters the watersheds from drilling or the Legislature bans the practice in these areas by statute.
We urge you and your Administration to take all necessary steps to safeguard the watersheds and drinking water supplies for New York City and for all communities around the Catskill/ Delaware Watersheds.
Michael E. McMahon
John J. Hall
Yvette D. Clarke
Anthony D. Weiner
Carolyn B. Maloney
José E. Serrano