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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Central Park Drilling

Air Date: Week of March 30, 2001

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CURWOOD: As electricity blackouts continue to plague California and threaten to roll across the rest of the nation, the Bush administration is pulling out all the stops to squeeze every last drop of oil out of U.S. territory. The most controversial drilling prospect is Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but drilling is underway in another equally sensitive landscape. Fears of a summer energy shortage in New York City have officials there exploring new sources of oil in the heart of Manhattan. Neal Rauch reports.

(Breezes, children's voices)

RAUCH: Central Park, the oasis of Manhattan. A break from the relentless onslaught of noise, traffic, and concrete of America's largest city. But some see a threat to this tranquil scene with the increasing commercialization of the park. It began several years ago when the Parks Department began accepting money from corporations, which, in turn, put up their signs and slogans inside the park. Just a few weeks ago, an agreement was reached with Coca Cola, making it the exclusive soft drink at the park's concession stands. But a far more serious threat is looming.


RAUCH: Beneath the bedrock of Central Park there may be oil, and this exploratory well is already in place in the middle of Sheep Meadow.

(Sheep bleat amidst the clanking)

NORDLINGER: That drill bores through the rock, and through this pipe the debris is removed

RAUCH: Jim Nordlinger is the project manager of this oil rig. He says modern drilling techniques and new technologies, including lasers and MRIs, will make the rig much less intrusive than in the past.

(Carousel music)

NORDLINGER: Everything we use today is smaller, more precise, more efficient. And we disguise this rig to look like one of the horses on the carousel.

RAUCH: Have you found any oil yet?

NORDLINGER: Uh, no, just a couple of old egg creams. But we're optimistic.

RAUCH: A consortium of oil companies are behind the push for drilling in Central Park. Steve Monroe is its chairman.

MONROE: Our geological studies show, without a doubt, that there are thousands of barrels of oil beneath Central Park. And that's vital for the energy needs of New York City.

RAUCH: But there have already been a couple of mishaps, and last week animal rescuers had to save several contaminated pigeons.

CROWD: (Chants) Let's not spoil Central Park for oil! Let's not spoil Central Park for oil!

RAUCH: Environmentalists are lining up against the plan. Anita Concialdi is with Animals Before People.

CONCIALDI: How can they even think of digging for oil here? This is beautiful, lush Central Park. Oil wells will destroy the last pristine environment of Manhattan. Drilling poses a real threat to the abundance of wildlife here. Squirrels, pigeons, rats!

RAUCH: But oil consortium chairman Steve Monroe says concerns about the environment of Central Park are misplaced.

MONROE: Look, there's not one iota of nature left in Manhattan. Even this park is manmade. It's already environmentally dead.

RAUCH: Still, nearby residents also have qualms about the plan. Richard Mann lives in a quarter billion dollar studio apartment on Central Park West.

MANN: You know, I would hate all the drilling and the noise and the horrible mayhem that it would cause here in the park. But most of all, the idea of the destruction of the beautiful Olmstead and Vaux architectural structure would just destroy me.

RAUCH: So you're against the idea of oil drilling in the park.

MANN: Oh, no, I own stock in Exxon.

RAUCH: Surprisingly, even some Democratic city councilmen are for the plan, including Al T. Cocker, who represents Manhattan's Lower Upper West Side, known as LUWIS.

COCKER: New York City should not have to depend on imported oil.

RAUCH: Because the Middle East is too volatile.

COCKER: The Middle East? I'm talking about Texas. They hate us even more.

RAUCH: Councilman Cocker, whose last campaign was completely financed by the oil industry, is also advocating a pipeline from Central Park to New York's harbor at the mouth of the Hudson River. He says that would actually be good for the environment.

(Chanting in the background)

COCKER: Just like in Alaska. It'll attract caribou. They like to snuggle up against the pipeline to keep warm during the winter months.

RAUCH: There are no caribou in New York City.

COCKER: Well, there's always the homeless.

RAUCH: Al T. Cocker says the amount of oil under Central Park will provide all the power needs for the Big Apple for a full six weeks. For Living on Earth, I'm Neal Rauch in New York.



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