Ken Jaffe: groundwater, equal protection & the SGEIS

In its Executive Summary of the revised SGEIS released yesterday, the DEC states clearly that groundwater is at sufficient risk from gas drilling to restrict gas drilling to protect  those drinking groundwater. But they only afford that protection to those drinking from primary aquifers. The DEC leaves the great majority of drinkers of groundwater in the Marcellus unprotected. They have some explaining to do.

I’m looking forward to hearing the DEC’s logic and science—their risk assessment strategy— used to assess that only some drinkers of contaminated groundwater need protection.

Primary aquifers are used as drinking water for some municipalities.

The list is on  on page 5:

The list includes about 300,000 people in those municipalities drinking water from these primary aquifers in counties in the Marcellus shale. (see attached spreadsheet and chart at bottom.)

Page 18 of the new DEC doc describes the exclusion of primary aquifers. It’s pasted below, bold face added.

No HVHF Operations on Primary Aquifers

Although not subject to Filtration Avoidance Determinations, 18 other aquifers in the State of New York have been identified by the New York State Department of Health as highly productive aquifers presently utilized as sources of water supply by major municipal water supply systems and are designated as “primary aquifers.” Because these aquifers are the primary source of drinking water for many public drinking water supplies, the Department recommends in this dSGEIS that site disturbance relating to HVHF operations should not be permitted there either or in a protective 500-foot buffer area around them. Horizontal extraction of gas resources underneath Primary Aquifers from well pads located outside this area would not significantly impact this valuable water resource.

As the DEC says, this is in addition to the exclusion of drilling in the watersheds of NYC and Syracuse.

Now, one can make an argument, as the DEC has, that the exclusion of drilling in the NYC and Syracuse water supplies is based on their being unfiltered surface water (as opposed to ground  water), with a risk of “turbidity” from surface drilling activity.  And because there have been rules in place for years restricting industry and development  in unfiltered surface watersheds to avoid having to build  super-expensive filtration plants, as  for NYC.  A more clear eyed assessment of carving out the NYC watershed is that the DEC wants to excise the political opposition of NYC, which could easily create a critical mass of opposition in the state.  But they do have the surface water “turbidity” argument  to fall back on to explain this preferential exclusion, even if politics is the underlying reason.

But when you are dealing with groundwater sources, how can you rationally and scientifically exclude some aquifers and not others? Again, the actual rationale appears overtly political, rather than based on the science or risk.  The DEC is trying to carve out the opposition of the  municipalities drinking from primary aquifers—including Jamestown, Elmira, Cortland, Binghamton, Corning, Salamanca.  After all, these municipalities  are really organized entities of people…….. who would otherwise likely oppose drilling.

Problem is, there are at least 1,140,000 people drinking groundwater in the Marcellus shale.   What’s up, DEC? You’ve determined that groundwater is at risk. You’re going to protect 300,000 people from ground water pollution, but not the other 840,000.

Who are those people? Hello, it’s us, the people of rural NY State who will be drinking from polluted wells. It’s us,  people who will not be receiving equal protection against the very threats that the DEC assesses are too risky for the people of upstate municipalities.

I think I’m going to call my lawyer.

Ken Jaffe, MD
Slope Farms
Meredith, NY

countypercent of population drinking groundwatercounty populationpopulation drinking groundwaterpopulation drinking groundwater from primary aquiferpopulation drinking groundwater not from primary aquifername of primary aquifer

Source material

•incomplete DEC data on primary aquifer in Cattaraugus and Tioga Counties may underestimate those drinking from primary aquifer by up to 50,000; this could raise the total using primary aquifers to about 350,000
•incomplete DEC data on total users of ground water does not include Delaware and Sullivan Counties; this could raise the total users of unprotected groundwater to about 950,000