Gennaro Unfiltered on Fracking

"Unfiltered forever!" City Councilman James Gennaro, the water supply’s self-appointed ombudsman, nearly shouted at an emergency Council hearing yesterday, where officials and citizens discussed fracking—the unfortunately named and controversial method used to extract natural gas. (It’s short for hydraulic fracturing).

For the moment, New York City is among the few places where a supply of drinking water to a major population center is not filtered. But drilling for natural gas could change that.

For the first time, because of rising energy costs, drilling in upstate New York’s vast Marcellus Shale reserves is economically feasible, and for months now, landowners and energy companies have been scrambling to secure leases and begin exploration.

So Gennaro, chair of the City Council’s Environmental Protection Committee, wants the state to know what it’s getting into. He’s seeking a one-year moratorium on fracking while the state updates its environmental review practices.

The problem is that fracking, which requires shooting huge amounts of water mixed with sand and chemicals into the ground, creates enormous amounts of waste water, which has to be treated. Companies are not currently required to disclose the chemicals they are using.

Albany maintains that it will not allow gas companies to endanger New York City’s water supply.

But Gennaro—who studied geology and environmental science before becoming a policy analyst for the Council— along with many environmental advocates, believes that drilling the Marcellus Shale, a large portion of which lies in the Catskills, will inevitably taint the water—where about 90 percent of the city’s drinking supply comes from.

At the City Hall hearing, State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis denied that there was any "emergency" to be addressed and promised not to grant permits for projects posing a threat to the city’s watershed. Gennaro and several other Council members, including Speaker Christine Quinn, questioned him at length about the reviewing process.

"We’ll do our job," Grannis said.

Fracking could enrich landowners upstate but it mainly poses risks for the city. If Albany fails to protect the city’s water supply, Councilman John Mallone Peter Vallone Jr. asked Grannis rhetorically, "who pays for the filtration system?"

While Gennaro and advocates from as far as Colorado emphasized the inherent environmental danger of fracking, others opposed fracking with an appeal to civic pride. Quinn boasted that the city won a water-tasting contest at the State Fair last month, and one advocate argued that New York City’s water should be specially protected—"like the Grand Canyon."

The city’s Department of Environmental Protection—which did not attend the hearing—requests a one-mile buffer around the watershed but does not oppose fracking altogether. Even if it did, according to Gennaro, "state government could squash DEP like a bug." Gennaro Unfiltered on Fracking