N.Y. sues to delay shale drilling pending environmental study

    New York’s attorney general is suing the federal government over natural gas drilling in the Delaware River Basin. The lawsuit claims several agencies have failed to conduct a full environmental review. The move could extend a de facto drilling moratorium that exists in northeast Pennsylvania.

    New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said drilling in the Delaware River Basin should not move forward without a comprehensive environmental review. He said the federal interstate body known as the Delaware River Basin Commission did not conduct such a study before proposing new regulations for gas drilling.

    Maya von Rossum of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network also wants a deeper environmental review.

    “We would be talking about looking at water pollution, air pollution, land disturbance, damage to existing species that are important to our region,” she said. “We would be looking at the health implications of people being exposed to these contaminants.”

    While the lawsuit says federal law requires such a thorough environmental review, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it does not require the Delaware River Basin Commission to conduct such a study.

    The natural gas formation known as the Marcellus Shale stretches beneath Pennsylvania and parts of New York State.

    Only a handful of wells have been drilled within the 13,500-square-mile Delaware River Basin. But the Delaware River Basin Commission’s newly proposed regulations could lead to an estimated 15,000 to 18,000 wells. The Delaware River provides drinking water for 15 million people, including residents of New York City and Philadelphia.

    Drilling for natural gas would require large water withdrawals from the Delaware River. The process also includes the use of chemicals to help release the gas.

    Industry representatives say that process, known as hydraulic fracturing, is safe and there have been no incidents of the fracking chemicals leaking into residential water supplies.

    “The reasoning and logic and drive behind this litigation are to ultimately undercut and thwart the responsible development of natural gas production along the Delaware River in Pennsylvania,” said Travis Windle, a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

    Windle, who said the basin commission has undertaken an exhaustive process to determine new regulations, said that process should continue to move forward.

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