No Drilling in NYC Watershed, Good News?

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced yesterday that the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement for natural gas drilling currently under review will not apply to watersheds that supply unfiltered drinking water.  For now, that means a de facto moratorium on drilling in the New York City watershed.
In response, Mayor Bloomberg had this to say:
"The portions of the Marcellus Shale where the City's watershed lies must be treated differently and the Department of Environmental Conservation's decision today recognizes that crucial fact. We firmly believe, based on the best available science and current industry and technological practices, that drilling cannot be permitted in the City's watershed. We are confident that the additional reviews now required for any drilling proposal in the watershed will lead the State to that same conclusion."
Environmentalists aren't claiming victory just yet.  Drilling may still be permitted by the State within these watersheds, on a case-by-case basis.  While this permitting these sites will be more time-consuming, if shale gas drilling becomes lucrative enough, companies may seek them out.  Additionally, the affected watershed areas represent only 10% of the Marcellus Shale reserves in New York State; drilling will get underway as soon as the DEC finishes review of the 14,000+ comments received on he SGEIS.  From Senior Staff Attorney, Kate Sinding at the NRDC:
Let’s be clear about what today’s announcement really means.  While the state is acknowledging the special concerns associated with these unique resources because of their special status as unfiltered drinking water supplies for major metropolitan areas, this announcement does little to nothing to actually protect the drinking water supplies for New York City or Syracuse.
Stated another way, the announcement tells us the watersheds for more than 9 million New Yorkers are still vulnerable to drilling with toxic chemicals. And the experience in every other oil and gas drilling state tells us that companies could well find it in their economic interest to go through a “site-specific environmental review” process for well applications in these two watersheds – the so-called special new protections announced today by DEC.
Furthermore, the state has left wide open the possibility that it could revisit drilling in the watersheds at any time, and you can be sure if the shale shows itself to be productive in NYS, the pressure will be on it to do just that.  This is especially true looking down the road a few years when gas prices are higher and drills are in the ground elsewhere in the state.
Meanwhile, the EPA is still readying its own study of the potential environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing.  See our previous post on that study.