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SCOTT M. STRINGER
MANHATTAN BOROUGH PRESIDENT’S OFFICE COMMENTS ON THE NYS DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION’S REVISED DRAFT SUPPLEMENTAL GENERIC ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT ON THE OIL, GAS AND SOLUTION MINING REGULATORY PROGRAM AND WELL PERMIT ISSUANCE FOR HORIZONTAL DRILLING AND HIGH-VOLUME HYDRAULIC FRACTURING TO DEVELOP THE MARCELLUS SHALE AND OTHER LOW-PERMEABILITY GAS RESERVES January 11, 2012 The Manhattan Borough President’s Office submits these comments in response to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Revised Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program and Well Permit Issuance for Horizontal Drilling and High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing to Develop the Marcellus Shale and Other Low-Permeability Gas Reservoirs. These comments are a supplement to oral testimony that was delivered by Borough President Stringer at the DEC’s November 30, 2011 public hearing in Manhattan.
PROPOSED ACTION DEC proposes to permit horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing to obtain natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, including areas as close as 1,000 feet away from crucial subsurface water supply infrastructure used to transport unfiltered water from the New York City watershed. The proposed action poses potentially harmful environmental impacts to the New York City watershed and to New York City’s subsurface water supply infrastructure, which could result in the irreparable devastation of a unique and invaluable natural resource. Additionally, the revised draft SGEIS fails to provide adequate analysis of the impacts and risks associated with hazardous waste, human health impacts, potential seismic activity linked to high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, and socio-economic impacts.
INADEQUATE PROTECTIONS FOR THE NEW YORK CITY WATERSHED All proposed natural gas drilling prohibitions in the New York City watershed apply only to high-volume hydraulic fracturing using 300,000 gallons of water or more. Drilling operations
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that use less than this amount would still be permitted in the New York City watershed and would not be subject to any of the restrictions outlined in the revised draft SGEIS. Natural gas drilling of any type could jeopardize the crucial filtration avoidance determination that the City relies on for the safe delivery of its unfiltered water supply and is therefore unacceptable. It is imperative that the DEC address this regulatory gap in the final regulation and include a strong and unambiguous prohibition of all forms of natural gas drilling in the New York City watershed.
INADEQUATE PROTECTIONS FOR SUBSURFACE WATER SUPPLY INFRASTRUCTURE The buffer zone prescribed in the revised draft SGEIS does not adequately protect the subsurface water supply infrastructure that delivers unfiltered water to New York City. The environmental consulting group Hazen and Sawyer recently called for a minimum buffer zone of seven miles around New York City’s subsurface water supply infrastructure. A buffer zone of this size should be given serious consideration by the DEC. Additionally, the DEC must ensure that adequate buffer zones are also established below New York City’s subsurface water supply infrastructure, not just around it. The threats to New York City’s subsurface water supply infrastructure that could result from the size of the DEC’s proposed buffer zone are clear. These threats include: risks posed by the potential accumulation of methane gas in or around tunnels and shafts; risks to water tunnels that could result from elevated external pressures in the regional stress field from hydraulic fracturing; and the potential for vertical migration of fracturing fluids via geological faults or fractures into water delivery tunnels. It should be noted that this subsurface water supply infrastructure is already functioning in a compromised state. Specifically, the Delaware Aqueduct which supplies half of New York City’s unfiltered drinking water supply has been leaking an estimated 30 million gallons of water per day for the past two decades. The consequences of additional stress on this vulnerable water delivery system posed by hydraulic fracturing could be severe. Also deeply troubling is the “reconsideration” provision outlined on page 1-17 of the revised draft SGEIS. This provision would allow the DEC to permit hydraulic fracturing in primary aquifers, principal aquifers, public water supply wells and tributaries within two to three years of measuring “actual experience and impacts associated with permit issuance”. The DEC lists no actual criteria for how the experience and impacts associated with permit issuance would be measured and/or assessed. This loophole should be eliminated in order to protect drinking water supplies.
HAZARDOUS WASTE The revised draft SGEIS proposes the classification of contaminant-laden and potentially radioactive drilling and fracturing fluids, mud-drilled cuttings, pit liners, flowback water and produced brine as non-hazardous industrial waste. This inappropriate classification system could potentially allow waste from hydraulic fracturing to cycle through landfills or standard wastewater treatment plants.
Although there is no wastewater treatment plant in New York that would be able to effectively treat the toxic byproducts associated with hydraulic fracturing, the development of privately owned treatment plants for this purpose may eventually occur. The revised draft SGEIS does not adequately analyze the potential impacts of such a privately owned treatment plant. Therefore, should future wastewater treatment plants materialize, it is unclear how the revised draft SGEIS proposes to protect New Yorkers from the serious public health threats associated with inadequately regulated hazardous wastes. It is also unclear where a future private wastewater treatment plant could be safely sited so that citizens and the environment are adequately protected. It is imperative at the final SGEIS account for all potential impacts and scenarios related to the treatment of wastewater resulting from the use of hydraulic fracturing.
HEALTH IMPACT ASSESSMENT The revised draft SGEIS omits a crucial Health Impact Assessment which would evaluate the potential risks to human health posed by the use of high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale. Because of the potential for drilling at an unacceptably close proximity to New York City’s subsurface water delivery infrastructure, a thorough evaluation of the human health consequences of high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing is clearly merited. I add my voice to those of over two hundred fifty health professionals in New York State that have called on the DEC to include a health impact assessment in the final SGEIS which includes an analysis of the existing documentation of the baseline health status of the New York State population; systematic identification and analysis of direct and indirect health effects; a cumulative health impacts analysis that includes a reasonable “worst case” assessment; and any potential measures to eliminate these impacts.
SEISMIC RISKS An increasing amount of anecdotal and empirical evidence has pointed to a possible linkage between high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing and seismic activity. On November 2, 2011 the drilling company Cuadrilla Resources published a report that linkages between hydraulic fracturing and two small earthquakes in the U.K.1 Furthermore, the U.S. Geological Survey has noted in the past that seismic activity caused by human activity has been caused by the “injection of fluids into deep wells for waste disposal and secondary recovery of oil, and the use of reservoirs for water supplies." Here in the United States, some have suggested that recent low-level seismic activity in Ohio, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas may be linked to hydraulic fracturing activities. Clearly the emerging research on the potential linkage cannot be ignored. The revised draft SGEIS was released long before the most recent research on this topic was published and it is anticipated that new research on the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and seismic activity will be forthcoming. It is imperative that the DEC not move forward with a final SGEIS until new peer reviewed research and information on this linkage, including the identification by the DEC of areas in New
York where seismic activity caused by hydraulic fracturing could potentially occur, is compiled and disseminated for public comment.
SOCIO-ECONOMIC IMPACTS The economic assessment report that supplements the revised draft SGEIS does not adequately consider the long-term impacts that hydraulic fracturing will have on the State economy beyond the period required to extract natural gas from the earth. Key phases of the shale gas extraction process such as land leasing, the construction of transmission systems for extracted gas, and the potential impacts of large scale shale gas exports on local and global markets have gone unstudied. Furthermore, the economic assessment report routinely fails to assess several worst case scenarios, in many cases examining only the positive potential outcomes that could result from hydraulic fracturing. Finally, internal documents reportedly circulated among members of the DEC’s Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel indicating that the DEC will require 226 additional staff members over the next five years to properly regulate hydraulic fracturing in New York State are not included in the economic assessment report. According to some reports, the DEC has lost some 806 full time employees since 2008, I am remain deeply concerned that State government may not have the necessary resources to adequately staff the DEC and properly enforce the final SGEIS.
CONCLUSION The Manhattan Borough President’s Office reviewed the DEC’s revised draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS). We respectfully urge DEC to prohibit all forms of natural gas drilling in the New York City watershed and to substantially increase the buffer zones for all high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing surrounding New York City’s subsurface water delivery infrastructure. We also urge DEC to establish mandatory regulations related to hazardous waste disposal, human health impacts, seismic risks and socio-economic impacts as previously described. It has been approximately forty-two months since authorizing legislation set the prospect of hydraulic fracturing in motion in New York State. Since that time the Manhattan Borough President’s Office has monitored this type of gas drilling in other states and nations and the results have not been encouraging. The potential for leaks, spills, contaminations and explosions to poison drinking water supplies in New York have not yet been adequately mitigated by the drilling industry. The litany of recent incidents at drilling sites in Pennsylvania speaks for themselves. Based on the revised draft SGEIS, the DEC has not mitigated these risks either. At this time, it is clear that high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing would be unsafe anywhere in New York State. This issue is far too important to be rushed. Natural gas has been trapped in the Marcellus Shale for 380 million years and will still be there after the technology used for high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing matures. I urge the DEC not to permit hydraulic fracturing anywhere in New York State until the drilling technology used for high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing can be proven to be safe.
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