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NYC Wants Consultants to Probe Effect of Gas Drilling on Drinking Water

Owners of this state-protected wetland near Oxford, N.Y. learned that a water services company was withdrawing water for use in a nearby gas drilling operation. (Credit: Lori Zunno)As we have been reporting for the past several months, public officials are increasingly concerned about the energy industry's push to drill for natural gas. Today New York City and state politicians called for (PDF) the state Department of Environmental Conservation to hire an outside consultant to evaluate the impact gas drilling could have on the city's watershed, and to hold public hearings in New York City and in the watershed region.

New York City and state officials have expressed concerns in recent months about how plans to drill for gas in the formation called the Marcellus Shale might affect the rivers and upstate reservoirs that feed drinking water to nine million New Yorkers. The drilling process involves the use of potentially hazardous chemicals and raises issues about how those fluids would be disposed of and how the environment would be protected against spills.

The letter, sent to DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis by City Councilman James Gennaro and state Senator Thomas Duane, says the city and its water-supplying region have been excluded from a series of public meetings DEC is holding on the issue around the state. No meetings are planned either in New York City or in the heart of the watershed itself, according to Gennaro.

Gennaro, who chairs New York City's Environmental Protection Committee, is calling for a complete ban on drilling in the watershed. At stake, he says, is the unique permit from the federal government that allows the city to operate without a water filtration plant. Gennaro estimates that constructing a plant and its associated systems would cost the city some $20 billion -- a sum that would offset even the best estimates for income from gas, and that appears untenable as New York battles one of its worst financial crisis in history.

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