Suit: Feds Failed to Study Fracking Effects in Delaware

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has sued several federal agencies alleging they have ignored their legal obligation to study the possible environmental consequences of natural gas drilling in the watershed of the Delaware River.

The suit is complex, but its outcome could directly affect water quality for millions of people in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

New York City residents and Philadelphians are among those who depend on the Delaware and its tributaries for drinking water. 

Who Is Being Sued, and Why?

Schneiderman's suit names the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the Department of Interior, as well as top individuals working at those agencies.

The attorney general believes the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), requires the federal government study environmental impact before approving new regulations on gas drilling. 

What new regulations?

Right now, the federal government and representatives of the governors of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, are working together to write new rules for gas drilling within the watershed of the Delaware River.

The Delaware River Basin Commission, a federal-state body, has already published draft regulations and opened them for public comment. Now, the DRBC is reviewing those comments and considering changes to the draft.

Ultimately, the federal and state governments together will write rules of the road for gas drillers. But Schneiderman's suit could slow down the process significantly if a judge finds in his favor. 

Schneiderman believes he's on sound legal footing. The federal government is being represented by the Department of Justice. A spokesman said the Department is reviewing the suit.

Who wants to drill in the Upper Delaware?

Lots of energy companies. The headwaters of the Delaware lie above the Marcellus Shale, a gas-rich geologic formation. Thanks to recent technical advances, including horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, these lands now look like a rich source of energy. But like any industrial activity, gas drilling comes with risks.

More on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.