There has been an important development on proposed gas drilling in the New York portion of the Marcellus Shale. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has formally commented on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS) covering the proposed drilling.
The EPA believes that DEC's environmental impact statement did not analyze "cumulative and indirect impacts" of construction of the infrastructure supporting the drilling process, such as pipes, roads, and the heavy duty trucking in and out of the area.
The EPA also said the dSGEIS did not adequately consider the health impacts of the drilling process, such as the potential risks associated with drilling in the New York City Watershed. The EPA specifically cited the 1997 New York City Watershed Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), of which it is a signatory, which granted the City its exemption from needing to filter its surface water supply, provided the water's purity can be insured. The EPA expressed "serious reservations about whether gas drilling in the New York City watershed is consistent with the vision of long-term maintenance of a high quality unfiltered water supply." and went on to say that "[a]s NYSDEC is well aware...the avoidance of filtration saves New York taxpayers billions of dollars that would be needed to construct and operate a water filtration plant should the watershed be compromised." It added that if drilling activities "adversely impacts water quality in the watershed, the city of New York would likely be required to build a filtration treatment system at an expenditure of $10 billion in capital costs and $100 million in annual operating costs. Clearly, it is in all our interests to avoid this scenario." Thus, the EPA recommended “a very cautious approach in all watershed areas.”
More surprising, and in stark contrast to the call of many of the City's politicians, is a section of the EPA's letter expressing concerns about water quality impacts not just in the City's watershed but throughout the state, and offered to partner with NYSDEC on coordinated efforts to protect water sources state-wide."
This statement is noteworthy because only two days before, the Syracuse Post-Standard reported that "[a]s of early December, oil and gas companies had bought drilling rights on almost 100 parcels of land in the Skaneateles watershed, according to Onondaga County property records. Drillers hold at least 150 leases in the Otisco Lake watershed. They’ve secured dozens more in land in the Cortland-Homer-Preble Sole Source Aquifer system, which cuts across Onondaga and Cortland counties."
Skaneateles Lake provides drinking water to more than 200,000 people in Skaneateles, Elbridge, Jordan and Syracuse. The lake is so clean that Syracuse is one of only seven large cities in the United States that don’t need a water filtration plant.