Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is known for firing on all cylinders—described by those who know him as having the stamina of the Energizer Bunny. Lately, he’s turned his attention to the fact that the gas drilling industry is at New York’s doorstep, clamoring for access to underground reserves and demanding the right to blast millions of gallons of chemically-treated water into the earth to extract the gas. We caught up with Borough President Stringer and asked him a few questions about his round-the-clock work on this pressing environmental concern.
Q: Why should New York City residents care about gas drilling? Isn’t all this industrial activity going on far beyond the city boundaries?
A: This natural gas drilling proposed for the Marcellus Shale would directly affect the drinking water supply for 9 million New York City residents. 9 million! What’s more, the City’s upstate watershed right now is completely unfiltered. This is pure, clean, untainted drinking water. If the state allows drilling in the Catskill / Delaware watershed, it is a near certainty that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would require the construction of a water filtration plant. That plant would cost an estimated $10-20 billion to build, and nearly $1 million per day just to operate. On top of the economic impact, there could also be a significant environmental impact. If hydraulic fracturing is permitted in the Marcellus Shale, it could lead to pollution, chemical spills, and contamination of the City’s water supply. It has in at least 9 other states where this kind of drilling is permitted to take place; check out the report my office issued back in February on this called "Uncalculated Risk." So is it worth the widespread environmental and health risks to contaminate pristine drinking water? I don’t think so. That’s why we need to "Kill the Drill."
Q: You’ve named your campaign ‘Kill the Drill.’ You sound serious about this. What’s the game plan and how do people get involved?
A: At the outset of this campaign, I realized that we needed a strong name to convey the importance of this issue. I mean, this is the biggest environmental issue of the decade in New York. So what we have done is to create a coalition of concerned citizens, environmental groups and elected officials who are all working together under the banner of "Kill the Drill" to convince the State Department of Environmental Conservation [DEC] to ban hydraulic fracturing. Anyone can get involved by visiting our website, where they will find information on how to join our letter-writing campaign and Facebook group. And for anyone in the New York City area on November 10th, we are holding a rally and press conference ahead of the 6:30 p.m. DEC hearing on the proposed drilling. This will be the only opportunity that New York City residents will have to make their voices heard on the issue, so it’s really important that we get a huge turnout.
Q: How have your efforts been received? Do city residents seem supportive? How about other elected officials?
A: Our coalition is growing by the day. Concerned citizens, environmental advocacy groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council, NYH2O and Earthjustice, newspaper editorial pages, and elected officials all stand united in the view that the State’s draft Environmental Impact Statement issued at the end of September fails to do enough to protect New York City’s drinking water. Some of the elected officials who have joined us in calling for an immediate ban on natural gas drilling in the City’s watershed include Congressmembers Carolyn B. Maloney, Jerrold Nadler, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, Public Advocate-elect Bill de Blasio, Queens Borough President Helen M. Marshall, State Senators Tom K. Duane, Liz Krueger and Daniel L. Squadron, Assemblymembers Jonathan L. Bing, James F. Brennan, Jeffrey Dinowitz, Deborah J. Glick, Richard N. Gottfried, Brian Kavanagh, Micah Z. Kellner, Rory I. Lancman and Linda B. Rosenthal, Councilmembers Gale A. Brewer, Leroy Comrie, Daniel R. Garodnick, James F. Gennaro, Jessica S. Lappin, Melissa Mark-Viverito and Rosie Mendez, City Councilmember-elect Margaret Chin, and several Manhattan Community Boards.
Q: How does New York’s fight fit into the national effort to close the Halliburton loophole and repeal the Safe Drinking Water Act exemption for the gas drilling industry?
A: I think the efforts are complimentary. The specific goals are different because our goals are local. However, we know from the work that Earthjustice did earlier this year that the State DEC relied heavily on the EPA’s 2004 analysis, which in my opinion was more of a political document, edited at the behest of former Vice President Dick Cheney, rather than a scientific document. In fact, an EPA whistleblower called the EPA’s analysis that prompted the current Safe Drinking Water Act exemption "scientifically unsound." I think that if you look at the efforts of the Kill the Drill coalition, together with the recent statements about potential drinking water contamination made by the natural gas industry, it sends a powerful message to the federal government, and the EPA in particular, that a more serious and scientifically grounded examination on the effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water supplies is urgently needed.