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Suit shows fracking could have local impact

Eric Schneiderman

As promised, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman filed a suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York on Tuesday against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to prepare an environmental impact statement before adopting regulations authorizing natural gas development in the Delaware River Basin.

“The federal government has an obligation to undertake the necessary studies, and as I made clear last month, this office will compel it to do so,” Schneiderman said in a statement.

Although New York is reviewing the effects of the controversial natural gas drilling technique before allowing it in the state, regulations have been proposed to begin hydrofracking in the Delaware River Basin, which supplies water to millions of New York residents.

Concerned environmentalists believe it is only a matter of time before the issue affects the state and the Rochester area.

“It hasn’t reached us yet but it’s inevitable,” said Frank Regan, former Rochester Sierra Club chairman and author of the environmental blog, “We’re going to get it at the end of the day.”

Hydrofracking is the process of extracting natural gas from underground rock formations using chemically treated water to break up shale formations.

Hydrofracking is already being done in Pennsylvania on the Marcellus Shale, affecting New York’s southern tier. The Marcellus Shale extends north to Hemlock Lake, the source of Rochester’s drinking water.

Regan said there is no way to predict where the fluid will end up and it could end up in Hemlock Lake.

The attorney general’s suit said Pennsylvania has seen “hundreds of violations of water pollution laws and the pollution of drinking water supplies relied on by hundreds of thousands of people” as a result of hydrofracking.

Schneiderman wants the federal agencies to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires a full review of actions that can have significant environmental impact.

Regan said the AG is “trying to make sure it’s done right,” and the environmental impact report would set a good precedent before the controversial process begins.

In a letter to Schneiderman dated May 24, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Brig. Gen. Peter A. DeLuca said the Delaware River Basin Commission, which is developing hydrofracking regulations, is not a federal agency 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,” DeLuca said in the letter.

The attorney general disagreed and said the DRBC “is a federal interstate body created through a compact agreed to by the president, Congress, state legislators and governors of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.”

EPA Region 2 Spokesperson Mary Mears provided The Daily Record with DeLuca’s letter to the attorney general. Mears said the EPA is not a voting member of the commission and could not comment on the suit. The AG’s office filed the suit in Brooklyn, where DeLuca’s office is located.

Last Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered an expansion of the state’s review of hydrofracking due to a chemical spill in Pennsylvania in April in which 10,000 gallons of fluid spilled into a creek and led to the evacuation of several homes in LeRoy Township

Former Gov. David Paterson began the state’s review of hydrofracking in 2009, putting the process on hold until the review is complete. The review should be completed this summer.