A natural-gas rush in some of New York and Pennsylvania's most pristine habitats could have serious negative consequences for the water supply of New York City. The Marcellus Shale holds possibly the largest reservoir of natural gas discovered so far in the United States, as much as 500 trillion cubic feet.
As gas companies send their "landmen" on prospecting hunts, armed with contracts that boast the possibility to make millions, a struggle has already manifested between those eager to strike it rich and those who are aware of the consequences of drilling - natural spaces transformed into loud industrial zones, drill pads, pipelines, access roads and all. While the rigs have already begun drilling in Pennsylvania, the land around the Catskills has yet to be tapped. Even so, Governor Paterson signed a bill this past summer streamlining the permit process, so that gas companies could begin operating in the spring.
Greater than the risks of the drilling process itself is the concern of the horizontal hydraulic fracturing process, called "fracing," which shakes the ground like an earthquake. In Wyoming, where fracing has occurred since 2003, residents report spoiled drinking water and structural damage to their foundations. The chemical recipe for blasting open the shale and freeing the gas was developed by Halliburton and is a trade secret. Yet, an independent study of fraced wells in Wyoming identified over 400 chemical toxins in contaminated soil and groundwater, some of which include carcinogens such as ethylbenzene, chromium, and arsenic.
Yet the Energy Policy Act of 2005 creates a loophole for oil and gas companies to avoid accountability and thus prosecution. In fact, in the name of reducing dependence on foreign oil, such companies are exempt from major environmental-protection laws like the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act.
If drilling is allowed in the Catskill watershed, the results could be disastrous. Half of the state's population counts on the watershed to provide drinking water. 1.2 billion gallons of unfiltered water reach the city each day driven almost entirely by gravity. In fact, it is the largest unfiltered surface-supply water system in America.
Story suggested by Lewis Kofsky.
Image: "My Water Supply" by CarbonNYC on Flickr courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing."