New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman filed a lawsuit against the federal government today for its failure to review the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the Delaware River Basin.
The Delaware River Basin includes a portion of the New York City watershed that provides most of the drinking water used by over nine million New York residents. The federally designated Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River (and its tributaries), is a significant recreational destination.
Last December the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), a federal interstate body with legal authority to approve or disapprove activities in the basin, proposed regulations allowing natural gas extraction via drilling and fracking in the basin. DRBC estimates about 15,000 to 18,000 gas wells can be drilled in the basin.
However, the commission — with the approval of its supporting federal agencies (Army Corps, EPA, National Park Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service) —proposed the regulations without conducting an assessment of the environmental impacts of such drilling projects on the basin.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to conduct a full review of actions that may cause significant environmental impacts.
In April, just one day before a blowout at a Pennsylvania natural gas drilling site caused gallons of chemical-laced water to spill over neighboring land and into a stream, Schneiderman had demanded that the federal government comply with the NEPA requirement and conduct an environmental impact review. He warned that if feds didn’t comply within a month he would take legal action to compel such a study. Since a month has passed with no response from the federal government, the attorney general filed a suit at the federal court in Brooklyn today.
“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,” Schneiderman said in a press statement released today.
Fracking — a process that involves injecting water, chemicals, and sand into the ground to break up rock and release trapped natural gas — poses risks to the environment and the health of communities. It involves withdrawal of large volumes of water from creeks and streams, potential contamination of drinking water supplies, waste generation, increased noise, dust and air pollution.
While the federal agencies admit that natural gas drilling in the basin could have significant environmental impacts and that there should be a study of those impacts, the DRBC’s lead agency, the US Army Corps of Engineers said last week that it, and the other member agencies, would make no commitment to running such a study.
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