NEW YORK -- New York state is suing the federal government for failing to study the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Delaware River Basin, its top prosecutor announced this morning.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) said the lawsuit is aimed at forcing the government to comply with his demand for a study of whether the natural gas extraction technique endangers water quality.
Schneiderman wants an environmental review taken before the Delaware River Basin Commission, a federal multi-state regulator charged with protecting water quality in a four-state area, finalizes regulations that would open the way for further natural gas exploration.
The Delaware River Basin supplies drinking water to Philadelphia and New York City. New York City has already designated its protected watershed in the Catskills off-limits to natural gas drillers, as the mayor's office fears the wells may contaminate drinking water supplies with chemicals used in the fracking process or with methane.
"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. "The welfare of those living near the Delaware River Basin as well as the millions of New Yorkers who rely on its pure drinking water each day will not be ignored."
Schneiderman's office has been warning DRBC, the Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies since early April to expect legal action by the state unless a environmental assessment is added to the regulatory process.
The suit will say that DRBC should undertake a comprehensive assessment of the possible effects of fracking before allowing gas drilling in an area that lies atop New York's share of the Marcellus Shale, Schneiderman said. He said he will formally file the challenge at a federal district court in Brooklyn this afternoon.
Schneiderman argues the environmental review is required by the National Environmental Policy Act and that such an investigation has become more urgent in the aftermath of a natural gas well blowout in Pennsylvania last month that caused a chemical water spill.
"Before any decisions on drilling are made, it is our responsibility to follow the facts and understand the public health and safety effects posed by potential natural gas development," Schneiderman said.