Group Sues to Ban Fracking in New York State Forests

A new lawsuit filed by a coalition of environmental groups is seeking to stop hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in New York State Forests. The lawsuit, which names the New York State Department of Environmental (DEC) Conservation as defendant, argues that allowing fracking on state forestlands would be a violation of the DEC’s mission to protect the state’s natural resources and environment.

High-volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing is banned in New York State until at least July 1, 2011, where the DEC hasn’t issued such drilling permits since 2008. The state’s natural gas-rich Marcellus shale region includes the entire Catskills watershed that provides New York City with all of its drinking water. Environmentalists are concerned that fracking, which involves injecting a cocktail of water, sand and chemicals deep into the earth at high pressure to shake loose shale gas deposits, would put the watershed at risk.

This new lawsuit was filed by the Croton Watershed Clean Water Coalition Inc. (CWCWC), which includes over fifty community, environmental, religious and housing groups throughout New York City, Westchester and Putnam Counties. The complaint claims that fracking in New York State Forests is contrary to the New York State Constitution and applicable environmental laws.

“New York State Forests are one of the great environmental success stories of the 20th century. After years of industrialization laying waste to hundreds of thousands of acres, New York State began a reforestation program with assistance from depression-era work programs,” CWCWC president Fay Muir said in a statement issued by the group. “DEC correctly states that ‘New York’s green certified State Forests shine among the gems of the State’s public land holdings… sustainable management of these lands [adds] multiple benefits including clean water, timber, recreation, wildlife and scenic beauty.’”

The group points out that the DEC bans other industrial uses in New York State Forests, including as wind turbines, commercial mining and communications towers. The CWCWC statement asserts that fracking in state forests has the potential to create a number biological impacts, including the toxicity of spilled or leaked wastewater affecting streams and wetlands, and the fragmentation of forests by drilling pads, access roads, and pipelines.

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