New York Natural Gas Drilling Lawsuit Claims Pollution of Water Wells

A natural gas driller in New York’s Trenton Black River limestone formation has been accused of contaminating water wells. A lawsuit filed by nine Big Flats families is seeking unspecified compensation and punitive damages from the natural gas driller, Anschutz Exploration Corp. and its subcontractors. The lawsuit was filed with the Supreme Court of The State of New York in Chemung County.

Anschutz Exploration Corporation owns two natural gas wells that were drilled almost 10,000 feet vertically and then horizontally in the Trenton Black River shale. According to a report from the Associated Press, the Environmental Protection Agency has launched a study of the impact of the extraction method, known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, upon water supplies after concerns were raised that such methods could cause contamination of drinking water.

The <"">New York natural gas drilling lawsuit, which involves homes north of the Elmira-Corning Regional Airport, claims the company was negligent in its drilling, construction and operation of the gas wells and that as a result of this negligence, the plaintiffs’ water supplies became contaminated. The complaint alleges that because of the contamination, the property values for homes owned by the nine families have been reduced and the families’ health has been jeopardized.

Fracking involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface to release gas deposits buried deep in shale. Thanks to a move by Congress in 2005, fracking is exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act – deemed by fracking opponents the “Halliburton Loophole.” As a result, drillers don’t have to disclose the chemicals that make up their fracking fluids.

In New York, fracking has been particularly controversial. 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. The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has had gas drilling permit approvals on hold since 2008 while it conducts an environmental review of fracking, but that could be lifted at any time. Late last year, then-Governor David Patterson signed an Executive Order that bans high-volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing until at least July 1, 2011.

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