ALBANY -- Dozens of scientists, including four from the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, warned Gov. Andrew Cuomo that it will be practically impossible for municipal drinking water systems to protect against chemicals used in natural gas hydraulic fracturing, also called hydrofracking.
Their letter to the governor, released Thursday, was signed by 59 experts from 18 states and seven foreign countries, included scientists from Cornell University, the State University College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and the State University at Stony Brook.
"We urge the state to reconsider its position that existing water filtration systems provide adequate protection against the risk of hydraulic fracturing, should materials from flow-back fluids migrate to lakes, reservoirs, or groundwater used for municipal water supplies," the letter states.
Hydrofracking relies on a high-pressure blend of chemicals, sand and water, injected deep underground to break up gas-bearing shale rock formations. Trucks bring in million of gallons of water as well as heavy equipment to each well.
Used drilling water, which can contain benzene and other volatile aromatic hydrocarbons, surfactants and organic biocides, barium and other toxic metals, and radioactive compounds, is later trucked to a disposal site.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation, which is considering rules to permit hydrofracking, has vowed that treated wastewater from drilling could be discharged into rivers only after hazardous substances have been removed, spokeswoman Emily Desantis said.
The governor's office did not respond to a request for comment.
"The state plan will not allow anything to happen in this state that will damage the drinking water supply," said John Holko, secretary and board member of the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York, an industry lobbying group.
One of the letter's signers, Cornell ecology professor Robert Howarth, said the letter was prompted by the state's decision to ban hydrofracking in watersheds that supply drinking water for New York City and Syracuse. Neither system is filtered.
"Municipal filtration systems were not designed with such hazards in mind, and the ability of the filtration systems to remove such hazardous substances has received little, if any, study. ... The best available science suggests that some of these substances would pass through the typical municipal filtration system," the letter warned.
"If the risk from shale gas is too high for the watersheds of New York City, then it is too high for any of the watersheds in the state," Howarth said.
It would be "extremely expensive" to add additional filters that capture hydrofracking chemicals, and Howarth could not point to a single municipal drinking water system in other states where hydrofracking is used that has done so.
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