New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today pledged to sue the federal government if it doesn’t commit in 30 days to conducting a full environmental review of proposed regulations that would allow natural gas drilling – including the potentially harmful "fracking" technique – in the Delaware River Basin.
The basin includes the New York City watershed and portions of Broome, Chenango, Delaware, Schoharie, Greene, Ulster, Orange and Sullivan Counties, and provides approximately 50 percent of the drinking water used by over nine million New York residents and visitors every day.
“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 fracking in New York,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “New Yorkers are correctly concerned about fracking'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.”
The Delaware River Basin includes the federally-designated Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River (and its tributaries), a nationally-significant fishing, boating and recreational destination. In addition, roughly 58 percent of the land area of New York City's West-of-Hudson watershed is within the Basin.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to conduct a full review of the environmental impacts of actions that may cause significant environmental impacts. Fracking poses numerous risks to the environment, health, and communities, including withdrawing large volumes of water from creeks and streams, contamination of drinking water supplies, generation of harmful wastes, increased noise, dust and air pollution, and harms to community infrastructure and character from increased industrial activity.
Due to the potential for significant impacts from gas fracking within the basin, the relevant federal agencies are obligated to comply with NEPA by performing a full review of the impact of the Delaware River Basin Commision's (DRBC) proposed natural gas development regulations.
Schneiderman's demand is contained in a letter sent today to agencies that decide policy for the federal government as a member of the DRBC. Led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agencies include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Parks Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The DRBC is a federal-interstate body created through a Congressionally-approved compact between the federal government and governors of the states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. The Commission has legal authority to approve or disapprove activities that may have a substantial effect on the water resources within the 13,500 square mile Delaware River Basin -- including over 2,300 square miles in New York.
In December 2010, over the objection of then-Governor David Paterson, the DRBC proposed regulations allowing natural gas development – including high-volume hydraulic fracturing combined with horizontal drilling (a technique commonly referred to as “fracking”) – in the basin.
The DRBC estimates that its proposed regulations will result in 15,000 to 18,000 gas wells being drilled within the Basin, most of which are expected to be developed by fracking. The DRBC proposed the regulations without first conducting an assessment of the environmental impacts related to allowing fracking in the Basin.
In today's letter, which builds on comments he submitted to the DRBC last Friday, Schneiderman demands that the Commission immediately 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.
Schneiderman further called for this review to include, among other elements, an evaluation of the cumulative impacts of widespread fracking within the Basin as well as the alternative of not authorizing natural gas development within the portion of the Basin that includes New York City's West-of-Hudson watershed.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is currently revising a Draft Supplemental Generic Impact Statement (dSGEIS) assessing the environmental impacts associated with high-volume hydraulic fracturing combined with horizontal drilling within New York. The next version is expected to be released as a revised draft for public review and comment later this year. The dSGEIS outlines safety measures, protection standards and mitigation strategies that operators would have to follow to obtain permits.
This matter is being handled by the New York City Watershed Inspector General, Philip Bein, and New York City Watershed Inspector General Scientist, Charles Silver, Ph.D., under the supervision of the Attorney General's Environmental Protection Bureau Chief, Lemuel M. Srolovic.