November 5, 2009, River Reporter: Chesapeake won’t drill in NYC watershed – Critics ask what about the rest of us?

Chesapeake won’t drill in NYC watershed

Critics ask what about the rest of us?

By FRITZ MAYER

link to complete article is here: http://www.riverreporter.com/issues/09-11-05/news-chesapeake.html

NEW YORK STATE — Chesapeake Energy says it is the only gas drilling company that currently has leases for gas drilling in the New York City watershed. In a press release issued on October 28, Aubrey McClendon, Chesapeake’s CEO, said, “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.” Therefore, the company said, it will not drill there or anywhere else in the watershed.

The decision has been welcomed by some environmental organizations, even as they say the company’s policy does not have the force of law and could easily be reversed at anytime.

The organization Riverkeeper, for instance, released a statement calling the move a step in the right direction, but still urged the state to pass legislation to permanently ban drilling in the watershed.

Writing on the website of the National Resource Defense Council, senior attorney Kate Sinding was prompted to renew a call for a statutory ban. She wrote, “While Chesapeake continues to deny that drilling in the watershed would present any risk to human health or the environment, its decision not to drill there represents at the very least an implicit acknowledgement of what NRDC and slews of others have been saying all along: to do so would be, well, crazy.”

Wes Gilligham, project director of Catskill Mountainkeeper, said that the action reflects the realities of drilling. He said, “It shows to me that Chesapeake is admitting the risks involved. Their normal way of operating when they contaminate somebody’s water is they make a settlement. And part of that settlement usually is that the residents don’t talk publically about the contamination, and the company supplies them with bottled water. I think supplying water for 9,000,000 people intimidated Chesapeake a little bit.”

Yancey Roy, the communications director of the DEC, said, “In the supplemental generic environmental impact survey, the state proposed a wide range of new safety measures and permit conditions for this type of natural gas drilling to protect public health and safety. These regulatory controls provide extra protections in sensitive areas such as the New York City watershed. The drilling companies will all make their own decisions about where to invest, but the Chesapeake announcement provides a clear indication that the state proposal contains rigorous protections for the watershed.”

If the company is true to its word and does not drill in the watershed, that will mean significant protection to the water supply for New York City. But that protection does not extend to the thousands of private wells and small municipal water supplies in other parts of the state, including most of Sullivan County and Delaware County. The city’s watershed covers about four percent of the land in the state, and is not interchangeable with the Upper Delaware watershed.

Moreover, some environmentalists see the move as a way for Chesapeake to neutralize the political opposition that has been gaining strength in recent months in the city. Bruce Ferguson of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy wrote in an email, “It’s obviously an attempt to silence the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, The New York Times and the many city-based politicians who have spoken out loudly against drilling in the watershed.”

And the move may also be causing a split in groups in the city and those in other parts of the state. Bloggers on various gas drilling sites have been having a spirited discussion about whether it’s hypocritical for environmental groups to support the proposed Chesapeake ban while failing to call for a drilling ban in the entire state. The sentiment seems to be this: if drilling is too dangerous for the drinking water of the people in New York City drink, why is it safe enough for the drinking water of everyone else?

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