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N.Y. Plans to Consider Law Limiting Natural Gas Drilling

Assemblyman James Brennan, inset, plans to introduce a bill in the state's legislature that would permanently ban drilling in New York City's watershed. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)New York City officials seeking a moratorium on natural gas drilling in the city's watershed have found an ally in the state legislature.

Assemblyman James Brennan, who represents part of Brooklyn, announced Thursday that he will introduce a bill in next year's session that would permanently prohibit drilling in the city's watershed. Brennan's proposal is in line with that of city councilman James Gennaro, who called for such a moratorium in July and will hold a hearing on the issue Wednesday at City Hall. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection proposed its own conditions in a July letter (PDF) to the state, calling for a one-mile protective barrier around each of the city's reservoirs.

Brennan spokeswoman Lorrie Smith said the assemblyman expects his bill to face opposition and sees it as a starting point for negotiations.

This is the second time that Brennan has called for such a moratorium. In June, he introduced a bill that would have placed a two-year, statewide moratorium on the issuance of permits for new wells and mandated that the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) complete a new environmental impact statement for the drilling in that time. In July, Governor Paterson ordered a supplemental environmental impact statement to update a 16-year-old study when he signed a bill authorizing revised well-spacing regulations, but Smith said Paterson didn't go far enough.

"That's all fine and good," Smith said. "But it doesn't absolutely prevent permits from being issued and drilling from taking place."

So far, no drilling companies have applied for permits to drill in the New York City watershed, according to the DEC.

Brennan worries that drilling in the New York City watershed might contaminate the water supply that serves more than half of the state's population, Smith said.

A ProPublica investigation of the gas drilling process and horizontal hydraulic fracturing, the water-intensive drilling technique proposed for wells in the Marcellus Shale, found more than 1,000 instances of water contamination in western states. The DEC says there have been no instances of contamination in New York state.

Assemblyman William Parment, who sponsored the July well-spacing bill and represents an upstate district that has already seen gas drilling, thinks Brennan's bill is a "grand gesture" that may make a little headway because of the recent controversy around drilling but is unlikely to actually pass.

"The presumption that somehow DEC is going to allow an activity that will endanger the water supply of 8 or 9 million people is, I think, farfetched, Parment said. "I guess you have to trust in somebody, and we've basically authorized DEC to supervise this activity. My experience with them is that they have been good stewards."

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