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Horrible gas drilling proposed for upstate: watch the water supply

Update: On Wednesday, good and bad happened in Albany on this matter.

This story was first brought to my attention by Jeff at Pisces over a veggie burger. Then, Betty from upstate posted about it at the NY Green web-site. Here is the story at the Chenango Greens web-site where they quote from the Albany Times Union. (There is a really cool graphic that explains it all.)

posted at Chenango Greens:

Albany Times Union 07/22/08
By ABRAHM LUSTGARTEN, ProPublica / Special to the Times Union
First published: Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Upstate New York’s Looming Natural Gas Nightmare


Regulators asleep as lawmakers attempt to declare vast acreage open to the energy industry’s iffy underground fracturing technique.

On May 29, top state environmental officials assured state lawmakers that plans to drill for natural gas near the watershed that supplies New York City’s drinking water posed little danger.
A survey of other states had found “not one instance of drinking water contamination” from the water-intensive, horizontal drilling that would take place across New York’s southern tier, the officials said.

Reassured, the legislature quickly approved a bill to streamline the permitting process for a huge influx of wells which could bring the state upwards of $1 billion in annual revenue. Gov. David Paterson has only until Wednesday to sign the bill, and the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation says drilling permits could be approved in as little as 12 weeks.

But a joint investigation by ProPublica and New York City public radio station WNYC revealed hundreds of instances of drinking water contamination in states where comparable drilling has been done.

In New Mexico, oil and gas drilling using waste pits like those proposed for New York has caused toxic chemicals to leach into the water table at some 800 sites. Colorado has reported more than 300 spills affecting its ground water.

DEC officials told ProPublica and WNYC they were not aware of those incidents, even though that information could have been found through a rudimentary internet search. They apparently hadn’t understood that the new drilling techniques pump trace amounts of toxic chemicals into the ground, and they couldn’t say for sure how New York would dispose of the millions of gallons of hazardous fluids that are the byproducts of this type of drilling. Four days after one interview, the DEC sent a letter to the drilling companies asking for detailed information about the type and amount of chemicals they will use…

Disposing of the produced water presents even larger challenges the DEC has also not addressed. When water is sent thousands of feet below the surface for hydrofracking it picks up other contaminants held deeply underground such as fuel-related hydrocarbons, cancer-causing compounds including Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzine, and Xylene – and even radioactivity from uranium ore.

When asked how the DEC intends to shepherd its waste water, the DEC could offer few details. Making sure the water gets treated isn’t part of DEC’s permit review process, so long as the end result complies with state laws that say, somehow, it eventually gets treated and meets discharge standards…

For now, DEC’s officials are asking their critics to have faith.

“If there is any doubt in anybody’s mind that we are going to proceed with these applications without full protection and consideration for the environment they are just wrong,” Washington said. “It may be that the applicants down the line are going to have to wait a long time for their permits. There are some things to sort out here.”

WNYC will air radio versions of this story beginning this morning.


Abrahm Lustgarten is a reporter for ProPublica, a non-profit investigative newsroom based in New York City. He is a former staff writer and contributor for Fortune, and has written for Salon, Esquire, the Washington Post and the New York Times since receiving his master’s in journalism from Columbia University in 2003. He is the author of the new book China’s Great Train: Beijing’s Drive West and the Campaign to Remake Tibet, a project that was funded in part by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

One Response

  1. […] Update on drilling in upstate NY: good and bad, stay tuned Jump to Comments The background story is here. […]

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