Friday, April 23, 2010

DEC to Give Some Watersheds Separate Environmental Review Process Before Drilling

updated 4/24 
Not all drinking water in New York is created equal. As of today, some watersheds will be excluded from the pending generic environmental review process for high volume- horizontal drilling in the Marcellus and other shale formations.

This afternoon,  NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Pete Grannis announced that "due to the unique issues related to the protection of New York City and Syracuse drinking water supplies" applications to drill in those watersheds will require a case-by-case environmental review process to "establish whether appropriate measures to mitigate potential impacts can be developed".

At this time there are 58 pending applications for horizontal drilling in the Marcellus shale, but none of those are located in  the New York City or the Skaneateles Lake watershed where Syracuse gets its water.

At issue: the Big Apple and the Big Orange both use unfiltered drinking water from surface-water sources. These watersheds are subject to Filtration Avoidance Determinations (FADs). The FADs acknowledge land disturbance and usage issues unique to those watersheds and independent of DEC’s ongoing review of the environmental safety of the high-volume hydraulic fracturing process.

The federal Safe Drinking Water Act requires that drinking water taken from surface water sources must be filtered to reduce the risk of waterborne disease. If a water supplier is able to demonstrate that they meet strict water quality criteria without filtration, they may request a FAD. In addition, the supplier must prove that it effectively implements a comprehensive watershed management plan.

FADs are rarely granted, but both New York City and the city of Syracuse have been issued FADs for their drinking water systems.

"The environmental safety protocols included in the SGEIS must fully protect drinking water supplies and mitigate significant environmental risks wherever drilling might occur," DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis said in comments released to the press. "Even with those protections in place, in order to better assure the continued use of an unfiltered surface water supply, there must be an additional review process which may result in associated regulatory and other controls on drilling. DEC will be vigilant in ensuring environmental safeguards," he promised.

The NY State Department of Health has the primary jurisdiction over the FADs. State Health Commissioner Dr. Richard Daines noted that watershed protection is critical for an unfiltered, FAD system. "The New York City watershed and the Skaneateles watershed are unique in the level of management required to ensure continued compliance with strict water quality standards," Daines said.

As a result of  today’s decision, applicants for natural gas drilling permits using high-volume horizontal drilling in the FAD watersheds will not be able to utilize the SGEIS. Instead, they will need to meet special requirements relating to the unfiltered surface water supply. That means they will need to conduct individual environmental reviews to address the continuation of the FAD.

The DEC will work closely with the state Department of Health, the local watershed communities, and with the cities benefiting from the FADs to develop the additional drilling requirements that may be applicable in the FAD watersheds.

Which leaves the rest of us in the region wondering: an' ain't we a Watershed too?

This announcement generated a lot of comments from NY legislators. Senator Thomas Duane (29th district) said : "I fear it is a cynical move that will pit New Yorkers against each other ...  residents in Manhattan and Syracuse, for example, will benefit from this decision while those living in Ithaca and Jamestown will not."


  1. "an' ain't we a Watershed too?" - beautiful quote, Sue! Just like an old Pogo strip. And what a way to end the article; with some gritty rural wit. In some ways Albany is creating it's own noose and now placing it around their own neck.

    Dave Walczak

  2. In Texas they do more regulation, (Ha) for
    the more populated areas. The rural folk
    grossly neglected. Many work or have
    relatives who work in the industry, and for
    fear of job security, will not speak out.
    Sounds like the same in New York. They have
    stricter noise rules, distance rules, and
    general safety for big cities.

  3. Ahh yes, the age old adage of "mine is worth more than yours." We all have equal need for water, it's a shame that only some water, not all, is seen as being worth protecting.

  4. More thoughts on an action plan . . . It seems that the Gov. & DEC offer noting but deceit and lies as false assurances that the process of natural gas extraction is safe and affordable. Every state this industry is in, leaves a trail of devastation and environmental destruction. NYS is the industry's last stand and the complicity runs deep between government, industry and profiteers. These forces will perpetuate until we stop them with in-mass action. An encampment in Albany by thousands of people could be a way of stopping this assault.

  5. As if municipal or household water filtration would do anything to remedy damage to water if fracking chemicals and/or produced water spilled or migrated into a watershed or an aquifer used for drinking water.