New York AG sues feds over gas ‘fracking’

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman opened a new front Tuesday in battles over controversial natural-gas drilling projects with a lawsuit alleging that federal agencies are shirking environmental review of dangerous development techniques.

The lawsuit alleges that several agencies have illegally failed to prepare a formal environmental impact statement (EIS) reviewing proposed natural-gas regulations issued by a federal-state compact called the Delaware River Basin Commission.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday is the latest shot in a battle over hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” which is an increasingly common natural-gas development method that critics fear will lead to widespread water contamination.

“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 Schneiderman in a statement announcing the lawsuit filed in a New York federal court.

The lawsuit — which alleges violations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) — is against the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Interior Department and two of its sub-agencies.

“The Federal Agencies have determined that authorization of natural gas well development in the Basin would potentially result in significant cumulative adverse environmental impacts and that a study of those impacts should be performed. But Defendants refuse to comply with NEPA and refuse to prepare an EIS assessing the cumulative environmental impacts,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit claims that the basin commission’s rules will result in 15,000 to 18,000 gas wells in Pennsylvania and New York.

Already, ongoing development in the northeastern gas formation called the Marcellus Shale has generated increased concern over fracking.

Fracking involves high-pressure injections of water, chemicals and sand into rock formations, which opens cracks that enable trapped gas to flow.

Use of fracking in shale formations is enabling expanded production, but bringing concerns about water contamination along with it.

“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,” the AG’s office states in a summary of the lawsuit.

The natural-gas industry calls concerns over fracking badly overblown, and contends that the practice is safe and adequately regulated by the states.