Local Push Against Upstate Drilling

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As the recent owner of a 65-acre home in the Catskills, Dana DiPrima was dismayed to learn of a plan to mine natural gas in upstate New York. She enjoyed camping and fishing there as a child.

“I said, ‘Drilling for gas, are you kidding me?’” DiPrima recalled.

But as an Upper West Sider, her concern also centered on potential damage to the city’s drinking water.

The Marcellus shale, a rock formation that stretches from Ohio into New York’s southern tier, has more than 100 trillion feet of natural gas, according to the state environmental department. The shale covers the city’s watershed in the Hudson Valley region, and opponents say the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s rules for drilling natural gas there are not strict enough. The rules, which are only a draft at this point, propose buffer zones around the watershed but do not ban drilling near the city’s drinking water supply.

Environmentalists are concerned about mining natural gas using a method called hydraulic fracturing, in which a mix of water, sand and chemicals is injected at a high pressure to crack the shale. Doing this near the city’s main water supply raises concerns about contamination.

“When you’re talking about the New York City watershed, you’re talking about a resource that a zero-risk approach needs to be adopted,” said Kate Sinding, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s New York Urban Program. “We have no faith that this is an activity that will be safely permitted and regulated in the state.”

DiPrima, who is commissioner of the West Side Soccer League, is working to organize Manhattan residents to speak out at public hearings on natural gas drilling and to write letters to the state environmental agency. She has teamed up with Borough President Scott Stringer, who launched a “kill the drill” campaign, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The campaign has generated 1,454 letters and a Facebook group with nearly 1,000 supporters.

“Everyone who drinks the water or showers in the water should stand up and say their piece,” DiPrima said.

On Dec. 3, DiPrima corralled about 60 friends, family members and neighbors at the Culture Center on Columbus Avenue for an informational meeting on natural gas drilling. Stringer, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the group Catskill Mountainkeeper also attended.

State Sen. Tom Duane and other
environmental advocates have pushed for a meeting in New York City to discuss the potential impact of drilling on drinking water. Though the public meetings on natural gas drilling are over, the public comment period has been extended to Dec. 31. Drilling opponents are urging people to continue writing letters and emails in support of a ban.

“We have only a limited time to encourage New York State to be a leader in one of the most pressing environmental issues facing New York City,” Stringer said in a statement.

When the comment period ends, the state Department of Environmental Conservation will consider the public’s response to the draft rules and finalize drilling regulations. The department will also respond to specific concerns in a “responsiveness summary,” and then decide on possible changes to regulation.

A spokesperson for the department declined to give a statement addressing drilling concerns until the public
comment period has ended.

With only two weeks left until that deadline, DiPrima is trying to increase awareness that drilling near the city’s drinking water supply may be imminent.

“It’s not just up to Natural Resources Defense Council and not just up to environmental groups to solve this problem,” DiPrima said. “It’s up to everybody.”

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