New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said Monday he would sue the federal government if it didn't immediately conduct a full environmental review of proposed hydraulic fracturing (“hydrofracking”) regulations for an area that includes the New York City watershed.
The Delaware River Basin Commission (DCRB), a federal-interstate body whose members include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the governors of four states, has the legal authority to approve or disapprove activities that may substantially affect water resources within the 13,500-square-mile Delaware River Basin, according to Schneiderman and reported in Law360.
In December, the DRBC proposed regulations allowing for energy companies to use hydrofracking combined with horizontal drilling, to tap into the basin's gas-rich Marcellus Shale.
The DRBC estimated that its proposed regulations would result in 15,000 to 18,000 gas wells being drilled within the basin, most of which would be developed by hydrofracking, Schneiderman said.
According to AG Schneiderman, however, the relevant federal agencies did not comply with their obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to perform a full environmental review of the regulations, adding that hydrofracking can contaminate drinking water supplies, generate waste, harm community infrastructure and increase air pollution.
AG Schneiderman has demanded the DRBC suspend its consideration of the proposed regulations until it completed its environmental review, which should include an evaluation of the cumulative impacts of widespread hydrofracking, as well as the alternative of not authorizing natural gas development within New York City's watershed.
If the DRBC does not commit to conducting a review within 30 days, AG Schneiderman has vowed to sue the federal government.
“Both the law and common sense dictate that the federal government must fully assess the impact of its actions before opening the door to gas hydrofracking in New York,” AG Schneiderman said. “New Yorkers are correctly concerned about hydrofracking's potential dangers to their environment, health and communities, and I will use the full authority of my office, including aggressive legal action, to ensure the federal government is forced to address those concerns.”
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Hydrofracking is not new in the U.S., but lately its use along with horizontal drilling has taken off, particularly in the Marcellus Shale, which is located underneath a half dozen or so eastern states (New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia) and contains approximately 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
The technique involves injecting large amounts of water, “proppants” (sand or ceramic beads) and chemicals into vast shale formations deep underground using tremendous pressure in order to stimulate production.