NY attorney general tells the Delaware River Basin Commission it had better study the risks of new fracking, or get sued

NY’s new attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, issued a release today indicating that he had written a letter threatening to sue within 30 days if the Delaware River Basin Commission does not commit to conducting a full environmental review of the risks of new hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”).  This bold action conforms with NRDC’s own position, reflected in comments jointly submitted with the Delaware Riverkeeper Network last Friday.  As we stated in those comments, the DRBC is legally required to prepare a comprehensive evaluation under the National Environmental Policy Act, the nation’s bedrock environmental law, before issuing regulations that would allow new fracking to take place within the ecologically delicate Delaware River basin.

The DRBC issued draft regulations last December that would lift an existing moratorium and permit new gas drilling using fracking within this exceptional watershed, which supplies drinking water to over 15 million people in four states: New York (including 9 million in the New York City region alone), Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.  As I blogged previously, and as reflected in our joint comments to the DRBC, those draft regulations are severely wanting in numerous respects.  Perhaps most significantly, though, the draft rules were put out without the agency having performed any comprehensive analysis of the potential serious environmental impacts of allowing new gas development in the basin.  Yet it is clear that the DRBC is, like all other federal agencies, bound by NEPA to perform just such an evaluation before moving forward.  To do otherwise would be not only grossly irresponsible, but illegal.

We applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for taking this strong stand in defense of the precious drinking water supply of so many of millions of people not only in New York, but throughout the Delaware River Basin watershed.  And we look now for his action to inspire similarly courageous action by others, including New York’s Governor Cuomo and his Department of Environmental Conservation.  After all, the state is engaged in its own environmental review process and should not stand by while another regulatory body with jurisdiction over a significant portion of the state moves forward without doing the same.

New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection did indicate in its comments on the draft regulations that drilling within the Delaware River basin should be limited to no more than 300 wells total.  While this is certainly a step in the right direction (tens of thousands of wells are conceivably otherwise possible), New Jersey and Delaware – both of which contain no shale gas of their own, and therefore stand only to lose if inadequately considered drilling causes damage to the river – should take a much stronger stand against new drilling unless and until its risks have been fully studied and a determination has been made that they can be safely managed.

Bravo, Mr. Schneiderman.