New York AG Sues Feds Over Delaware River Basin Fracking

The New York State Attorney General has filed suit against the federal government in an effort to block hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Delaware River Basin. In a statement posted on its website, the New York Office of Attorney General said the federal government had abandoned its legally required responsibility to assess the environmental and public health impacts of natural gas drilling in the Basin.

“Before any decisions on drilling are made, it is our responsibility to follow the facts and understand the public health and safety effects posed by potential natural gas development,” said Attorney General Schneiderman according to the statement. “The federal government has an obligation to undertake the necessary studies, and as I made clear last month, this office will compel it to do so. 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 Delaware River Basin, much of which sits atop the natural gas-rich Marcellus shale, encompasses parts of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. The Basin supplies water to more than 17 million people living in East Coast cities, including Philadelphia and New York City. It is regulated by the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), a body whose voting members include the governors of Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

The DRBC is preparing to adopt new drilling regulations that would allow fracking in the Basin. The commission estimates that its proposed regulations will result in 15,000 to 18,000 gas wells being drilled within the Basin, most of which are expected to be developed by fracking.

In April, Schneiderman sent a letter to the DRBC informing it that his office would file suit if it did not commit to a full environmental impact study of its proposed regulations as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) within 30 days. Schneiderman further called for this review to include an evaluation of the cumulative impacts of widespread fracking within the Basin as well as the alternative of not authorizing natural gas development within the portion of the Basin that includes New York City’s West-of-Hudson watershed.

According to the statement from his office, the federal government has ignored those demands, and the DRBC’s lead agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has made clear that it will make no such commitment. As a result, Schneiderman has filed a lawsuit in federal District Court in Brooklyn to compel an environmental review before regulations authorizing gas drilling are finalized.

The statement continues:

“Unless studied and subject to strict controls, fracking poses risks to the environment, health, and communities, including the withdrawal of large volumes of water from creeks and streams, potential contamination of drinking water supplies, waste generation, increased noise, dust and air pollution, and potential harms to community infrastructure and character from increased industrial activity. Due to the potential for significant impacts from gas fracking within the Basin, the relevant federal agencies are obligated to comply with NEPA by performing a full review of the impact of the DRBC proposed natural gas development regulations.”

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