NY AG wallops feds with fracking lawsuit

Remember when New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman threatened back in April to sue the federal government over hydraulic fracturing? He meant it.

The New York Daily News Daily Politics blog has posted the complaint that Schneiderman filed today against a slew of federal agencies.  (You can read the document below.)

Schneiderman is asking the courts to stop the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) from issuing regulations for hydraulic fracturing within the Delaware River basin. The gist of Schneiderman's argument is that the the various federal agencies that sit on the DRBC broke the law when they drafted regulations for fracking within the basin last year without first doing an environmental impact study.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to conduct "a full review of actions that may cause significant environmental impacts" before they allow them, Schneiderman argued in a press release today:

Schneiderman called on the federal government to comply with its NEPA obligations by suspending its consideration of the proposed regulations and undertaking a full review of all public health and safety risks posed by natural gas development in the Basin ... 

While the federal agencies determined that natural gas drilling in the Basin would potentially result in significant environmental impacts and that the study of those impacts should be performed, the DRBC’s lead agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, responded last week and made clear that it and the other member agencies would make no such commitment. The determination undermines the NEPA requirement.

As a result, Schneiderman announced today that he is filing a lawsuit in federal District Court in Brooklyn, where General DeLuca’s office is located, to compel an environmental review before regulations authorizing gas drilling are finalized.

Gannett's Star-Gazette has a good run-down of the forces behind the lawsuit. The story, written last week, quotes Peter DeLuca, the  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official who is the federal point man on the DRBC, explaining that an impact study would be redundant and possibly beyond the DRBC's powers:

But DeLuca, who is the commission's federal representative, contends that the commission is not a federal agency, and therefore not subject to [NEPA] ... "We therefore believe that the federal commissioner is neither required to produce, nor has the statutory authority to perform, a study under NEPA as part of this process," wrote DeLuca, who noted that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has already launched a new study on hydrofracking.

The DRBC is currently mulling over the many comments it has received about its proposed regulations, and there is no set timeline for when it may or may not adopt them, according to its website. Meanwhile, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation are each doing their own studies of fracking -- and in New York's case, the study's due date has just been pushed back.

All of this means that it's unlikely that any New York wells will be fracked anytime this year. Still, preparations are underway, as the good citizens of Deposit will discover tomorrow at the re-scheduled DRBC hearing on XTO Energy's proposed water withdrawal.


NY AG Eric Schneiderman Sues Feds Over Fracking