Today’s news:

More time to sound off on gas drilling

There’s more time for the public to comment on a controversial upstate plan that could have a devastating impact on downstate regions like Brooklyn, a local lawmaker said this week.

The state Department of Conservation (DEC) has extended the public comment period from Nov. 30 until Dec. 31 for a draft supplemental generic environmental impact statement weighing the impact of natural gas drilling in an area known as the Marcellus Shale, a massive, multi-state geologic formation that includes the city’s watershed, a region that provides unfiltered drinking water to the city. The DEC has not ruled out drilling in the watershed area — and that should be cause for concern, according to Assemblymember William Colton.

To extract the gas, companies employ a method called hydraulic fracturing, which injects millions of gallons of water into each boring, which can be 6,000 feet below ground. The water is mixed with chemicals and sand, used to crack the shale and mine the gas. The danger, Colton said, is if this water finds its way to the Catskill watershed, which supplies 90 percent of the city’s water supply.

“The drilling should not be going near such an essential resource,” Colton said. “It should be banned from the watershed area.”

The drilling could also be costly, particularly if the purity of the water is jeopardized, Colton noted. If a filtration plant must be built, it could cost upwards of $20 billion, the lawmaker said, leading to meteoric rises in Brooklynites water bills. “If the city’s economy is damaged it would be a disaster for the state, far greater than whatever gain we get from drilling,” he said.

Colton said he is asking the DEC to further extend the comment period in order to wait for a pending report commissioned by the city examining the impact of the drilling on the city’s drinking water. DEC spokesperson Maureen Wren said she did not know whether another extension would be granted.

But Colton and critics of the drilling had reason to cheer in late October, when Chesapeake Energy Corporation announced it would not drill for natural gas in the city’s watershed. The company, the largest leaseholder in the Marcellus Shale, said in a statement that while it feels it could drill safely in any watershed, it would focus its efforts on “more promising areas” for gas development in the state. “It has become increasingly clear to us over the past few months that the concern for drilling in the watershed has become a needless distraction from the larger issues of how we can safely and effectively develop the natural gas reserves that underlie various counties in the souther tier of New York.,” Aubrey McClendon, Chesapeake’s chief executive officer said.

To comment on the state plan or read the SGEIS, go to http://www.dec.ny.gov/energy/58440.html.

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