Unfortunately we see how much brainpower we have when it comes to natural resources....
City's Drinking Water Feared Endangered; $10B Cost Seen
By ABRAHM LUSTGARTEN, ProPublica | August 6, 2008
New York City officials have demanded a ban on natural gas drilling near upstate reservoirs because they fear the drilling could contaminate the city's drinking water.
They've asked the state Department of Environmental Conservation to establish a one-mile protective perimeter around each of the city's six major Catskill reservoirs and connecting infrastructure — a buffer that would put at least half a million acres off-limits to drilling. They also want to wrest more regulatory control from Albany.
New York is one of just four major cities in America with a special permit allowing its drinking water to go unfiltered, and that pristine water comes from a network of reservoirs and rivers in five upstate counties. If the special permit was revoked, the city would have to build a treatment facility that could cost nearly $10 billion, a senior official at the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, Walter Mugden, said. That's roughly what the state estimated it would earn from gas development during the nxt decade.
The commissioner of the city Department of Environmental Protection, Emily Lloyd, in a letter to state officials that was obtained by ProPublica, said she was not satisfied with the state's assurances that the environment would be protected from drilling in the Marcellus Shale, a layer of rock that reaches up to 9,000 feet below much of the Appalachian east, including south-central New York State and the 2,000-square-mile watershed.
The letter doesn't offer any specifics on how drilling might taint the city's water or explain the basis for the one-mile buffer, but it makes clear that as guardians of New York's water, city officials view drilling as a serious threat to the tap water supply for 9 million downstate residents. It could involve thousands of gas wells producing billions of gallons of toxic wastewater.
Ms. Lloyd asked that a state, city, and federal working group be formed to reassess regulations in the watershed and to recognize it "as a unique resource requiring special protection." She called for the city to be given a say in the state's permit review process, and for the public to be allowed to comment on each well's permit, something that is not now guaranteed.
The Marcellus Shale is among several large new gas reserves in America that have become economically viable in a time of record oil and gas prices. A geologist at Penn State University, Terry Engelder, said he believes it could meet all the nation's natural gas needs for two years.
The Department of Environmental Conservation, which oversees exploration, has estimated that Marcellus development could add as much as $1 billion a year to the state's economy.
A prolonged regulatory debate, though, could threaten that income.
"If the state process involves a lot of concurrence with other agencies or environmental reviews along the line, it can create potential for considerable delay," the vice president of government relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, Lee Fuller, said. He added that the process could "really affect the cost of development and the schedule of development and the willingness of some producers to engage in that development."
The environmental consequences of developing Marcellus wells on a large scale could be severe. Getting the gas involves a process called hydrofracking, or shooting millions of gallons of water and drilling chemicals at explosive pressure deep underground to break up the rock, and drilling the Marcellus would require more water than most other types of drilling.
The identity of the chemicals, which are sometimes toxic, is protected as a trade secret, making it difficult to assess how wastewater can be safely treated and discharged. Drilling in other states has resulted in more than a thousand wastewater spills that have affected drinking water.
An investigation last month by ProPublica and WNYC public radio found that New York State had not adequately assessed the environmental risks and did not have a complete regulatory structure in place to determine where the immense amounts of necessary water would come from, or how it would be disposed of after it was used. It found that New York State did not know the chemical contents of the drilling fluids that would be used, and was not aware of the level of contamination in other states.
Governor Paterson last week ordered the DEC to update the 16-year-old environmental impact assessment it was relying on and pledged to require the industry to disclose the chemicals it uses. He did not promise to stop drilling from going forward in the meantime.
"If you are ranking areas of concern that need extremely careful protection," the New York watershed "would have to be at the top of anybody's list," the EPA's Mr. Mugden said. "More than half the state ... depends on that watershed on a daily basis."
The city was not brought into the gas drilling conversation until mid-July, even though state officials had been working on the issue for seven months. The city sent a letter to state officials raising concerns about a new well-spacing bill that was before the governor, and Ms. Lloyd requested special consideration for the watershed a few days later.
Both the state and the city have tried to keep their negotiations private. A DEC spokesman said the agency works closely with the city, and the city responded in kind.
"DEC has given us every assurance we have asked for ... that the environmental review will be very stringent, that we will be at the table throughout the process, and that protecting water quality is their first priority as well as ours," Ms. Lloyd said through a spokesman Friday.
City Council Member James Gennaro, chairman of the city's committee for environmental protection, wants the city to go further. He is calling for a complete moratorium on drilling anywhere in the Catskill watershed, which provides 90% of New York City's water and also makes up the heart of the Marcellus deposit. He said he will ask the EPA to conduct its own study of the threat drilling poses to the city's drinking water.
"I just don't think it's a proper activity for an area which is the city of New York's most precious capital asset," he said. "I think it poses a risk. I think they are going to say quite candidly that it is a problem. Let the federal government go on record."
The face-off pits the city's interests against the broader economic needs of the state, so its solution may not be simple, according to an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, Eric Goldstein. Gas leases are selling for as much as $3,000 an acre in parts of the state with stagnant economies.
The historic upstate-downstate friction can be attributed at least in part to the controversy over New York City's acquisition of the watershed lands in the early 1900s, Mr. Goldstein said. "Those were pure eminent domain takings; thousands of residents were moved, towns were relocated, cemeteries dug up, and bodies reinterred. Obviously some tensions have remained."
Mr. Goldstein said New York City may have the law on its side, because the state's public health law gives it a lever to set pollution controls in the watershed. But unilateral action would be a last resort. Instead, the city is more likely to search for a cooperative solution that leaves the door ajar for upstate economic growth while still saving the city's water.
"You could say that from a legal standpoint they have authority," Mr. Goldstein said. "How and whether they might choose to use it is another question."
ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. Mr. Lustgarten is a reporter at ProPublica and author of a new book, "China's Great Train: Beijing's Drive West and the Campaign to Remake Tibet." This story can also be accessed at ProPublica's website.
© 2008 The New York Sun,
Unfortunately we see how much brainpower we have when it comes to natural resources....
NYC water supply is alredy compromised by the allowance of development within the Croton watershed, and thus the disgusting chlorine smell that often greets NYers these days when the tap is turned on.
When I first moved to NYC the water was ALWAYS great tasting, with no nasty smell whatsoever.
Unfortunately that is now a thing of the past, due to bone-headed politiicans, lax regulations and greedy developers.
A "no drill zone" is necessary and should be implemented immediately.
And watch out for John "Drill Here, Drill Now" McWrinkles -- who seemingly wants to drill anything he can get his hands on.
I remember over-chlorinated water in the Museum of Natural History a good 25 or so years ago (school field trip).
I did not know why it smelled like that since my home used artesian well water......
If you want to taste chlorine, you need to try the water anywhere else. I'm sorry to hear you can now detect it in New York water, which used to be so great tasting that it regularly won Consumer Reports blindfold tests against the likes of Evian.
The lead content, however, may be another thing.
Lead is 90% from the pipes and solder in your buildings plumbing.
If you are really worried about it, either get a filter, or don't drink the first few cups (gallons) of water from the system after it has been sitting for a while.
When boiling water for cooking, some people get a "head start" by running the tap hot. A bad move. If there is lead in your plumbing system, hot water more easily puts it into solution. Boiling kills micro-organisms, but doesn't remove metals.
There are two water-supply systems for the city. The article concerns the Catskill watershed, which is still in very good condition, and supplies over 90% of city water. Drilling for gas is a disturbing development.
The older Croton system is another story. The watershed sits in an intensely developed area. The city has avoided filtration for Croton by including the Catskill watershed in assessing overall water quality.
That argument became more untenable over the years, and facing court-ordered fines, the city is building a filtration system for Croton water in the Bronx.
If you own your home, get an inline filter; if you rent, a tap filter.
Brita filters seem to remove a good portion of lead, and I pretty much drink only from the Brita pitcher.
Cooking, on the other hand, depends upon what's for dinner ...
The pipes on the upper floors of my building are fairly recent installations (within the past 30 years). But the building itself is 150+ years old, so who knows what lurks down low ...
Anyway, I doubt that any additional damage to my brain cells would matter at this point (considering past self-inflicted abuse) ...
When in doubt, let it run a bit!
Use filtered water for sauces and the like, but everything else does not really trap a hell of a lot of water....
Oh, Britta is good, but just realize that their filters seem to have timers, not flow meters. So, depending on how often you use them, the flashing light on them may not be telling you you actually need to swap it yet. Ours has been flashing for weeks and the taste is still good compared to unfiltered...
The "flashing light" filters are triggered by flow resistance, but the units that hold the cartridges don't seem to be well made, and break down.
I suspect the price is kept low to get you to buy into the system, the more expensive cartridges. If the unit malfunctions and you still have 5 cartridges, you're not likely to go with another product.
August 10, 2008
Putting Water Ahead of Natural Gas
By PETER APPLEBOME
It wasn’t quite Barack Obama in Berlin, just a city councilman from Queens standing behind a makeshift lectern on the sidewalk outside his office and trying to talk to four reporters, most of them from small news outlets, over the sound of buses wheezing along Union Turnpike.
But if Councilman James F. Gennaro’s press conference Friday with two environmental leaders barely moved the needle on the summer news meter, it almost certainly was a window onto the biggest environmental issue almost no one in New York City is paying attention to.
It has slowly dawned on people, among them Mr. Gennaro, chairman of the Council’s Environmental Protection Committee, that there’s one very big local angle to the distant and still exotic notion of major energy companies descending on upstate New York to drill for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation.
A large chunk of that area is the 2,000-square-mile watershed where New York City gets its water, which comes unfiltered through the city’s reservoirs and aqueducts to nine million people, or roughly half the state’s residents. That raises the obvious questions: Should there be gas drilling in the watershed and, if so, can it be done without imperiling the federal waiver that has allowed New York to avoid building a filtration plant that would cost $10 billion to $12 billion?
Mr. Gennaro, a geologist who has studied petroleum engineering, said the answers are an emphatic “no” and “no.” And he said that the State Legislature and Gov. David A. Paterson, dazzled by the prospect of gas-industry riches, have been negligent in not ruling out development in the watershed. Sophisticated new wells using hydraulic fracturing use a million gallons of chemically treated water to break up subterranean shale and release the gas inside. Over the next two decades, there could be thousands of wells upstate.
“This is an activity that is completely and utterly inconsistent with a drinking water supply,” he said. “This cannot happen. This would destroy the New York City watershed, and for what? For short-term gains on natural gas? We’re not saying no exploration for natural gas anywhere in New York State. We’re saying the part of New York State that is the New York City reservoir system should be off limits to this kind of activity.”
Mr. Gennaro, who appeared with officials from the environmental groups Riverkeeper and the Natural Resources Defense Council, is one small player in a very big game. (Riverkeeper called for a permanent ban on drilling in the watershed.) But he seems intent on ringing the bell loudly over an issue that so far has been the subject of quiet, low-profile discussion between city and state agencies, but of very little public discussion.
He is calling for a yearlong moratorium on gas drilling in and around the watershed and plans to hold public hearings on the issue in early September. He has also asked the Environmental Protection Agency to render a formal opinion on whether gas drilling could put the city’s filtration waiver at risk.
There are more than three dimensions of chess in gaming this out.
There is the utterly fortuitous prospect of a lucrative gas boom coming at a time when New York is desperate for new revenue, and upstate is equally desperate for new economic activity. There is the national energy crunch to push for domestic exploration. There is the eternal conflict between upstate and downstate over water issues and land rights. There are conflicting instincts among landowners: hope of winning the gas lottery versus fear about the consequences for the environment and on the quality of life in their communities.
Industry officials, who have largely kept a low profile, say that they welcome state oversight and that the industry has a track record of being environmentally responsible. But they also warn that a drilling moratorium or undue regulation could discourage production.
“New York has to be careful how it deals with these issues so it doesn’t send a negative signal to the industry that chills the interest in the play in New York State,” said Tom West, an Albany lawyer who represents several gas companies. “These companies have limited investment dollars, and they’re going to invest them where the natural gas opportunities exist and where there’s a regulatory climate that promotes it.”
This is all early. State officials say there are only six drilling proposals on file, none of them in the watershed. No one knows how much gas will be found upstate. Most of the gas-rich areas are outside the watershed, so companies may just avoid areas where the environmental bar is highest. And Judith Enck, Mr. Paterson’s deputy secretary for the environment, said an updated environmental impact review demanded by the governor would ensure that all drilling proposals get a thorough analysis.
But asked about declaring the watershed off limits, she said: “We’re not willing to say that a large piece of geography should be off the table. The governor agrees that the New York City watershed is absolutely critical and must be protected, but he also believes you can have economic development and protect the watershed at the same time.”
Mr. Gennaro said that’s too much to take on faith.
“Unlike natural gas, which we can get from other places in the Marcellus Shale, we have no other place to go for our drinking water. This is it. We have one and only one drinking water system.”
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
August 27, 2008, 3:55 pm
Water Bragging Rights, Even if You’re No. 2
By Sewell Chan
Beating more than 150 other municipal water systems, New York City came in first — for the first time — in the New York State Water Taste Test at the State Fair in Syracuse this week. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg wasted no time issuing a statement on Wednesday bragging about the distinction and calling the tap-water system “the lifeblood of our city.”
But who came in second, and what do they feel about all this?
The second-place winner, announced on Tuesday, was the village of Pulaski, population 2,398, in Oswego County, near the eastern edge of Lake Ontario in upstate New York. By car, the village (locals pronounce it pull-ask-EYE) is a drive of nearly five hours from New York City.
So far, Pulaski is taking the news well.
“We were very proud to have come in second place,” Gary M. Stevens, who has been superintendent of public works for the village since 1992, said in a phone interview. “First place would have been better, but things happen.”
The village’s mayor, Ernest C. Wheeler, said, jokingly: “We’d like to know where you get your water from. You don’t get it from Lake Ontario, do you?”
The annual water taste test — this was its 22nd year — is a “nonscientific competition” co-sponsored by the State Department of Health and the New York section of the American Water Works Association. Officials representing the 10 finalists, including New York City and Pulaski, each had to bring three gallons of water for the contest.
About 250 attendees at the State Fair, which began Aug. 21 and continues through Monday, judged the blind taste test.
The other finalists — survivors of regional competitions — were the South Otselic Water District (Chenango County), the Monroe County Water Authority, the Bethpage Water District (Nassau County), the town of Rotterdam (Schenectady County), the village of Franklinville (Cattaraugus County), the village of Walton (Delaware County), the village of Fonda (Montgomery County) and the Boonville Water District (Oneida County).
Mr. Stevens, the Pulaski public works official, has never been to New York City. Mr. Wheeler, who has been the mayor, a part-time position, for two years, said he was last in New York City three years ago to attend the New York International Auto Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. (Mr. Wheeler is a Corvette owner and runs a local fan club.)
He did not remember the city’s tap water very well. “It tasted O.K., but ours is better,” he said. “Whatever.”
Richard F. Daines, the state health commissioner, said in a statement:
This contest demonstrates that some of the world’s best-tasting and highest-quality drinking water is found in New York’s largest city. Considering that New York City’s water comes from reservoirs in Delaware, Greene, Ulster, Putnam, Westchester, Schoharie, Sullivan and Dutchess Counties, these counties are also winners.Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement:
Let’s all raise a glass to congratulate the Department of Environmental Protection on its victory at the New York State Water Taste Test at the State Fair in Syracuse. The city bested 150 other municipal water systems to win the title for best-tasting drinking water. Our drinking water system is the lifeblood of our city and the men and women of the Department of Environmental Protection, under the leadership of Commissioner Emily Lloyd, work tirelessly to uphold the high quality and integrity of our drinking water. As the filtration exemption granted by the Environmental Protection Agency for Catskill/Delaware water supply shows, our water is exceptionally clean and tastes great. We are making major investments in the infrastructure that supports our water system to maintain our high standards for water for decades to come. For New York City residents and our visitors, the choice between bottled water and tap water is as easy as choosing between a frozen pizza and slice from a New York pizzeria.
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
Gas leasing videos from NY State: