Community Board 5 passed a unanimous resolution July 8 opposing a proposed upstate gas-drilling project that environmentalists believe could contaminate New York City's reservoirs. The resolution followed a similar position taken by the Borough Board just days earlier.
Gary Giordano, CB5's district manager, applauded the board's decision to oppose the drilling.
"The possibility of drilling anywhere near the reservoirs upstate that serve the New York City area would directly impact our drinking water," Giordano said. "It's not worth the risk."
The project, proposed by gas companies in the Catskill Mountain region of upstate New York, would employ a new technology called hydro-fracking to extract gas from underground sites dangerously close to the city-owned reservoirs.
The drilling process, which involves pumping water and chemicals into the ground, has environmentalists and New York City residents worried the city's water system could become contaminated.
"There's significant risk to New York City's drinking water" if drilling is allowed, said Buck Moorhead, of NYH2O, an environmental advocacy group opposed to the drilling.
He said city residents who feel distanced from the project should consider its scope: the Marcellus Shale gas field is thought to be the biggest in the country, according to experts who have studied the area. Any drilling project could cause serious environmental damage, Moorhead added.
In an interview, State Senator John Bonacic, a Republican whose 42nd district comprises five of the city's six reservoirs, said while protecting the environment is a priority, worried city residents might not realize such a large project would also bring much-needed jobs to a depressed upstate economy.
"You have to balance bringing some economic vitality and the protection of property rights" and water quality, the senator said. Bonacic said he supports drilling, if it can be done without contaminating the city's reservoirs.
"It's a matter of having the experts come in and say what's a reasonable buffer, making a compromise and that's what we're trying to do," Bonacic said.
He said people who live near the reservoirs understand just how important it is to keep them clean. A reputation for a polluted environment would scare away tourists who visit the region for its natural beauty, said Bonacic, adding that tourism drives economic activity in his district.
Finding a responsible way to allow gas drilling while protecting the reservoirs and surrounding environment would benefit everyone involved, Bonacic said, though this is easier said than done.
"That's been my hardest job as a state senator - dealing with [environmental concerns] and balancing economic development in the watershed area of the counties I represent," Bonacic said.
Following CB5's anti-drilling resolution, Giordano said he plans to share the resolution with other Queens community boards to build more support for it.