The Catskill Mountainkeeper

November 14, 2010

The Catskill Mountainkeeper is a 501 3c advocacy organization focused on the issues concerning the residents, economies, and ecosystems of the Catskill mountains.  The simple tagline chosen by the organization, working together to protect the Catskills, pretty adequately sums up the groups purpose.  Membership is free and the group prides itself on addressing a range of issues specific to the region rather than one single focal point.  That being said, the main issues in the facing the six counties of the Catskill region have to do with balancing the need for economic growth and population expansion with protecting the long term health of these economies and the land and natural resources on which they rely.

Undoubtedly the most major current issue in the Catskill Mountains is the battle over natural gas exploration with hydraulic fracturing in the region’s methane rich rock shale.  Sitting on top of the Marcellus Shale and the Utica Shale, the Catskill Mountains have become a prime drilling site due to the enormous amount of natural gas the lies deep in the earth.  The existence of large amounts of gas has been known for years, but because of the depth, it was previously unreachable.  New technology called horizontal hydraulic fracturing injects millions of gallons of chemicals and water deep into the ground to break up the rock shale and allow for gas extraction.  The process however is quite costly in terms of the residual effects it has on local economies and ecosystems.  The chemical solution used in hydrofracking has reportedly infiltrated aquifers that supply drinking water and has had profound disastrous effects on wildlife and agriculture.  Furthermore, communities in which hydrofracking is being practiced have experiences high levels of methane gas running through their faucets, reportedly causing house fires and explosions.

In this particular case, hydrofracking in the Catskills poses a unique concern being that the Catskill watershed is one of three in the United States that is permitted to deliver unprocessed water to New York City.  If the water supply were to become tainted by carcinogenic chemicals as a result of hydraulic fracturing, the cost of building and maintaining a plant to treat all of New York city’s water would be overwhelming.  With drilling already happening next door in Pennsylvania, the reports of explosions, water contamination, aquifer depletion and other horror stories are already amassing in numbers.

The Catskill Mountainkeeper is advocating for clear understanding of gas drilling’s impact and strict regulations to control it if it does happen.  The battle between industry and environment has been long underway in the area ever since the technology for horizontal drilling became available.  As of now, it seems that the environmental movement may have won some time with a moratorium on new drilling, but there has yet to be a band on this type of drilling put in place.

Other key points of focus for the Catskill Mountainkeeper include the construction of a major power line called the New York Regional Interconnect (NYRI).  It would run from Utica to Orange County, cutting right through the Catskill Region thus posing a serious problem for landowners and farmers.  Also, the Mountainkeeper is paying attention to the affects of climate change on the region, specifically in light of the three “hundred-year floods” that have taken place in the last five years.  Urban sprawl and town planning seems to be another issue of interest for the group as it strives to promote growth while protecting the existing landscape, natural systems and lifestyle.  I have left a message with the office of the Catskill Mountainkeeper and will update this post with a few interview questions as soon as contact is achieved.

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