DEP position on gas drilling still vague

By Matthew J. Perry
While The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner spoke volumes before the state assembly at an October 15th public hearing in Albany, New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) representative presented the equivalent of a few sound bites.
DEP Deputy Commissioner Paul Rush followed DEC’s Peter Grannis to the microphone and spoke for less than 10 minutes. The questioning period that followed was also brief. Grannis, by comparison, testified for nearly two hours.
Rush stated that the DEP still has “grave concerns” about potential threats to the city’s unfiltered watershed system and is not prepared to rule out any position either for or against drilling within its borders.
The DEP statement mentioned soil runoff from surface disruption, sediment and erosion control, and the presence of hazardous compounds in drilling wastewater as potential problems. Rush also stated that since DEP has never confronted the possibility of gas drilling in the watershed before, and has no petroleum engineers on staff, it lacks internal counsel to evaluate the level of threat posed by widespread drilling.
The agency intends to hire a consultant to help draft a plan of action, Rush said. He gave no deadline for that selection.
In July, former DEP commissioner Emily Lloyd suggested creating a one-mile buffer around all city reservoirs in which no wells, laterals or tunnels could intrude. When asked if the DEP was still considering this option, given that commissioner Lloyd stepped down from her position earlier this month, Rush said yes. He also stated that depending on the results of the consultant’s analysis, even greater restrictions might be called for.
Otherwise, Rush’s comments on specific issues pertaining to gas drilling were either general or nonexistent. When asked about the DEC, which is openly supporting an extended play in the Marcellus Shale, he stated only that he was certain the DEC would not allow drilling to proceed if it threatened the city’s water supply.
A new DEC scoping document, which will address drilling regulations, is expected to be drafted by spring 2009. Rush stated that the DEP is not bound to end its own review so quickly.
“We’ll request more time [to review] if we need it,” he said.