New York City’s Water Supply: Probably safe from Fracking

NYC WatershedNew York State’s Governor Andrew Cuomo will shortly decide whether or not to lift the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Marcellus Shale. This technology is used in other states to produce natural gas and oil and would similarly produce copious amounts of these hydrocarbons in the Marcellus , which is very rich in this resource.  The moratorium was established in 2008 by then Governor Patterson  when a number of residents in rural areas in Pennsylvania and elsewhere found serious contamination of their drinking water from chemicals associated with nearby fracking operations.  If Cuomo agrees to allow drilling in the Marcellus, it is more than likely that he will protect the area in or close to the Catskill mountains (see graphic) which supplies 90 percent of New York City’s water via the Delaware and Catskill aqueducts. The Marcellus actually extends a long way to the West of the area shown in the sketch, which would leave most of the Marcellus for potential drilling, using the fracking technology.

It should be noted that with proper and properly enforced regulations, there should be few instances of drinking water contamination from fracking chemicals associated with the drilling operation. There will continue to be such instances,  in spite of regulations, though the number of occurrences should substantially decrease with time and properly conducted operations. One could argue that if limited fracking were allowed in the NYC watershed (for example if some communities inside this area petition to be allowed to develop this valuable resource with attendant large financial benefits) the potentially harmful effects on NYC water would be negligible, considering the huge dilution effect, with the many billions of gallons of water flowing toward New York every day. And water users in the NY metropolitan area would probably never notice any contamination. In that respect they would be better off than families who draw water from wells near fracking sites in situations where chemicals resulting from sometimes accidental spills get into an aquifer.

Be that as it may, it seems politically impossible for the governor to allow fracking in the watershed, by such prohibition providing certainty for the eight million people in the New York Metropolitan area.

Readers interested in learning more about the fracking controversy should see the film “Promised Land”, starring Matt Damon, currently shown in many local theaters.

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