New York's AG: Feds Failed To Assess Marcellus Shale 'Fracking' Risks

Lawsuit intends to force environmental and public risk study for NYC watershed.

Published on: Jun 2, 2011

Fracking of Marcellus Shale and other natural gas formations in may be delayed even longer in New York State. Early this week, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced he would sue the Delaware River Basin Commission and overseeing federal agencies – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Army Corps, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

The DRBC proposed regulations allowing natural gas development in the Basin without undertaking any such review. New York's AG has been after the federal government to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act since April. NEPA law requires federal agencies to conduct a full review of actions that may cause significant environmental impacts.

Schneiderman's demand for the fracking study was ignored, even though natural gas drilling and related subterranean fracking might affect New York City's main water supply and portions of eight counties.

The Delaware River Basin includes a portion of the New York City watershed and parts of Broome, Chenango, Delaware, Schoharie, Green, Ulster, Orange and Sullivan Counties. The federally designated Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River (and its tributaries), is a nationally significant fishing, boating and recreational destination. In addition, roughly 58% of the land area of New York City's West-of-Hudson watershed is within the Basin. 

"Before any decisions on drilling are made, it's our responsibility to follow the facts and understand the public health and safety effects posed by potential natural gas development," says Schneiderman. "The welfare of those living near the Delaware River Basin, as well as the millions of New Yorkers who rely on its pure drinking water each day, will not be ignored."

The April blowout at a Pennsylvania natural gas drilling site that released chemical-laced water into a stream did not go unnoticed. Neither has the natural gas bubbles showing up in streams and rivers that have been linked to drilling.

Schneiderman wants the federal government to consider suspending its proposed regulations and undertake a full review of all public health and safety risks. He also wants the cumulative impacts of widespread fracking within the Basin studies. And he wants them to consider not authorizing natural gas development within the portion of the Basin that includes New York City's West-of-Hudson watershed. 

Last week, apparently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers responded and made clear that it and the other member agencies would make no such commitment. As a result, the Ag will be filing the lawsuit in federal District Court in Brooklyn.

The DRBC estimates that its proposed regulations would allow 15,000 to 18,000 gas wells to be drilled within the Basin. Most are expected to be developed by fracking.

The regulations were proposed without first conducting an assessment of the environmental impacts related to allowing fracking in the Basin.