New York Fracking Rules Won’t Protect City Water, Foes Say

The drinking-water supply for 9 million people in New York City won’t be protected by New York state’s proposed rules on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, residents and politicians said.

“There is no possible regulation strong enough that you could come up with to prevent that one accident,” State Senator Tony Avella, a Democrat who has introduced a bill to prohibit fracturing, or fracking, said at a hearing yesterday at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. “New York state should never consider this process.”

The state has banned high-volume fracking while the Department of Environmental Conservation weighs rules that would let companies extract gas from shale with the technique. The agency has said it plans to bar the technology within 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) of unfiltered watersheds that provide drinking water for New York City and Syracuse. Final rules may be issued next year, spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said in an interview.

Energy producers use fracking, which forces millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sand underground, to break up rock and liberate trapped gas. Environmental groups have said the process has tainted drinking water in states such as Pennsylvania, where almost 4,000 wells have been drilled. While New York delays, its neighboring state has enjoyed new hiring and tax revenue, advocates of the process say.

The department said yesterday that it would extend the period for public comment on the rules 30 days to Jan. 11.

‘Eating Our Lunch’

“The DEC continues to show preference to various special interest groups while ignoring the needs of landowners,” Dan Fitzsimmons, president of the Binghamton-based Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, said in a statement yesterday. “Hundreds of new jobs and millions of dollars in potential revenue hang in the balance. Thousands of unemployed New Yorkers don’t have time to wait.”

Gas production has brought 72,000 jobs to Pennsylvania in the past 18 months, according to Arthur Kremer, chairman of the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance, a Manhattan-based coalition that supports drilling.

“The state of Pennsylvania is eating our lunch,” Kremer told reporters after speaking at the hearing. “It’s up to DEC to come up with the regulations that make it as foolproof as possible. It’s not fair for downstate people to impose their will on the people of upstate New York who want it and need it.”

Ban Urged

Opponents at the hearing urged Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, to ban the technique.

“I Love NY H2O,” read a sign held by one opponent. “Cuomo, Don’t Frack it Up.”

Cuomo said during his election campaign last year that fracking would create jobs, “but only if it is safe.” Since taking office in January, he has pushed regulators to complete their environmental review.

In Pennsylvania, Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. and Chesapeake Energy Corp. have paid settlements after drinking water was fouled by natural gas, according to that state’s Department of Environmental Protection. Joe Martens, New York environmental conservation commissioner, has visited sites of drilling accidents in Pennsylvania and has said New York has incorporated lessons from its neighbor’s mistakes into the proposed rules.

Winger, Ruffalo

About 1,900 people attended yesterday’s hearing, DeSantis said. Most spoke against fracking, including actress Debra Winger, actor Mark Ruffalo and Josh Fox, director of “Gasland,” an Academy Award-nominated documentary that criticized the technology.

“The truth gets out and the gas industry is lying,” Fox said at a press conference before the hearing. “It is political hubris to think that regulation will work here.”

“You cannot survive if you contaminate the water,” Avella said. “And the potential for contamination just far outweighs the few jobs that will be created.”

The most populous U.S. city receives 1.3 billion gallons (4.9 billion liters) a day of water through a network of gravity-fed aqueducts from 19 reservoirs as far away as 125 miles, according to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. Contamination from fracking could force the city to build a plant to filter drinking water that could cost $20 billion, according to New York Senator Bill Perkins, a Democrat whose district includes Harlem.

“If the EPA orders the city to build a filtration plant, where will the estimated $20 billion come from?” Perkins said at the hearing.