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Drill, baby, drill — someplace else-Grassroots effort to block contamination of water supply

A grassroots effort is afoot to prevent drilling for natural gas in the vicinity of the New York City watershed, in upstate New York.

Fearing that the drilling could pollute the watershed, activists in the city as well as upstate have mounted a petition on line to encourage the state legislation to pass a bill sponsored by New York Assemblymember James Brennan, for a two-year moratorium on natural gas drilling across the state.

In Bay Ridge, Community Board 10 member Allen Bortnick brought the issue to the board’s attention, discussing it first at an Environ-mental Committee meeting and then at the January general board meeting, held in the community room at Shore Hill, 9000 Shore Road. Bortnick urged his listeners to sign the petition and spread the word explaining that locations chosen for drilling by one company, Chesapeake Corporation, “are extremely close to our upstate fresh drinking water sites, which means that the fresh water we get in New York City will undoubtedly be polluted as a result of the method being used to obtain the natural gas that can be extracted from shale, deep down in the earth.

“We won’t have anything but water bottles to turn to if we don’t stop this,” contended Bortnick. “Let’s stop the drilling before it starts.”

Brennan’s legislative director, Lorrie Smith, said that the “main purpose” of the legislation -- which would prohibit drilling within two miles of the New York City watershed as well as provide for the moratorium -- is to “protect New York City drinking water. We want to prevent any of the drilling from going on in or near the watershed.”

A key issue revolves around the process used to extract the natural gas from the shale buried deep underground, said Smith, who told this paper that there are “concerns with how the hydro-fracking process works.”

This process, Smith explained, involves “pump-ing water and chemicals into a well and drilling the well horizontally to break up the shale underground so you have one hole in the ground, but you can reach gas in a wide-ranging area. We don’t know exactly what chemicals they would use, but from studies done out west, we know a lot of them are very toxic.”

The process is done under high pressure, said Smith, who pointed out that water pumped in during the procedure “has to be extracted again. There’s no way of knowing if it all comes out, which creates a lot of questions. We don’t want to see this happening around the New York City watershed.” Should the area become contaminated, said Smith, at very least a filtration plant would have to be built, which would be costly, and it would be possible that the water in the area would be no longer “usable.”

Time is of the essence. Smith said that the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is currently, “Reviewing the en-vironmental impact statement, and possibly putting in more restrictions. We want to make sure that drilling is not done anywhere in the state till they get that far.” While a number of companies have expressed interest in drilling for gas in New York, she added, “So far as I know, no one has been given a permit yet to do this.”

Smith said that the hope was that, once the state’s fiscal issues are resolved, a state senator will carry the bill in that chamber. “There continues to be a focus on budget issues,” she noted, “so we don’t expect the bill to get a good airing until later on in the session.” This is the second time Brennan has introduced a version of the legislation, A1322.

CB 10 Chairperson Dean Rasinya committed the issue to the board’s Environmental Committee for review. “I think this is really an important issue,” he remarked.

The petition can be found at www.petitiononline.com/NoDrill/petition.html.

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