The State Department of Environmental Protection (DEC) issued a summary of a 900-page report the agency will release this week that recommends a ban on the mining of natural gas through a controversial practice known as hydraulic fracturing - or hydrofracking - in the watershed that supplies New York City with its drinking water. (For more on hydrofacking, the process and the report, see page 11.)
That's good news for New York City. The city's supply of drinking water is one of the cleanest in the entire nation. So clean, in fact, that water stations are hooked up directly to city fire hydrants in busy parts of the five boroughs during the summer for thirsty pedestrians. There aren't that many cities in the world that would feel comfortable enough with the quality of its drinking water to do that. For that matter, in many cities in the world it isn't even advisable to drink the water, let alone enjoy it from a fire hydrant.
But was the DEC's recommendation good news for the environment as a whole? Much of the speculated natural gas reserves are believed to be contained in an upstate rock formation known as the Marcellus Shale. According to the DEC's own summary, it recommends opening up 85 percent of the Marcellus Shale to hydrofracking.
Critics of the recommendation were quick to point this out. While the New York City water supply will be protected, the gas industry will still be allowed to drill for natural gas using the controversial method, which employs hundreds of chemicals, some of which are known carcinogens. In fact, some critics of the initial summary argue that the recommendation is far from a win for the environment,and actually good news for the gas industry.
They go on to argue that allowing hydrofracking could expose other upstate drinking water supplies to danger, even if the practice isn't allowed in the watershed that supplies New York City. They see that as a double-standard.
If hydrofracking is allowed to go forward in New York State, there must be stringent regulations and strict oversight to insure that it is done responsibly and safely. A hydrofracking advisory panel has already been put in place, let's hope that it is able to operate independently and that the DEC and state government take their opinions and recommendations seriously.