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State fracking rules could allow drilling near New York City water supply tunnels

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The Ashokan Reservoir, part of the New York City watershed. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The latest draft of guidelines for hydraulic fracturing in New York could open the door to drilling within 1,000 feet of aging underground tunnels that carry water to New York City—a far cry from the seven-mile buffer once sought by city officials.

The draft environmental impact statement, released last week by state officials, is a crucial step toward allowing high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in New York. The gas drilling technique was put on hold three years ago so the state could assess any environmental effects of the practice.

If the proposal is adopted in coming months, the state would allow drilling near aqueducts but would require a site-specific environmental review for any application to drill within 1,000 feet of the water supply infrastructure.

That’s not enough to protect New York City’s water, said Kate Sinding, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which is based in the city.

“There needs to be a buffer area in which there’s no drilling whatsoever,” Sinding said. “Just having elevated review doesn’t cut it.”

City spokesman Farrell Sklerov wouldn’t say whether the city’s position on the buffer zone had changed, only that officials are updating their recommendations. When the state advanced a similar proposal two years ago, city officials said it could expose tunnels to damage and allow explosive gases and pollutants to leak into the water.

State spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said a separate proposal to prohibit drilling in the New York City watershed was enough to address the city’s concerns about threats to the water supply.

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