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NYC, Syracuse watershed exemptions enter fracking fight

Syracuse gets its water straight from Skaneateles Lake - so it's happy fracking won't be going on nearby.
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Syracuse gets its water straight from Skaneateles Lake - so it's happy fracking won't be going on nearby.

The experts are still poring over the details of the DEC's proposed rules for fracking - a process that injects water and chemicals at high pressure to free natural gas from deep underground.

But the state environmental agency did announce big plans to keep fracking out of the watersheds that supply drinking water to New York City and Syracuse.

A partial draft of the proposed regulations was given to reporters last Friday. The full draft is due out this week.

Syracuse: "We're pleased."

Andrew Maxwell, Syracuse's Director of Sustainability and Planning, says the city had heard from New York State that its drinking water supply would get special attention.

Getting confirmation that the state plans to keep drilling out of the Skaneateles watershed altogether was welcome news.

"The lake being an unfiltered water source for the city, that's something that needs special protection. So we're pleased that the DEC also acknowledged that," says Maxwell.

He says in the event of a drilling accident in the area of the lake, Syracuse would likely have had to build a water filtration plant - at a cost to the city of millions of dollars.

Still a statewide issue

Then there's the other 85 percent of New York's Marcellus Shale play, where drilling and fracking for natural gas will be permitted.

"I'm sure there are going to be a couple New York City groups that are going to say, 'Job done, we're finished,'" says Erica Ringwald with Environmental Advocates of New York, but she thinks they'll be an exception. She says the groups she's speaking with see an opportunity in the DEC exemptions.

"In taking the New York City and Syracuse watersheds off the table, there's a recognition that fracking is dangerous," says Ringwald.

Ringwald echoed others in the environmental community who say the new regulations still leave them with work to do.

Maxwell, with the City of Syracuse, says he can appreciate the concerns of other municipalities that won't be exempted under the new rules. He says he expects "vigorous community discussion" around the state in the coming months.

Former WRVO/Central New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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