Environment groups file suit over gas regulations

Environmental groups filed a lawsuit Thursday in New York City to force federal officials to conduct an environmental review before issuing final regulations on natural gas drilling in the Delaware River Basin because of concerns over the method used to remove the gas.

The lawsuit asks a federal court in Brooklyn to find that the Delaware River Basin Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated federal requirements by not doing the review and to order them to conduct one.

The suit follows a similar one filed earlier this year by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

The Delaware River Basin provides drinking water to millions of people, including New York City residents. About a third of the basin sits on top of the Marcellus Shale, a natural gas reserve underneath several states.

The commission imposed a moratorium on drilling in its part of the formation while it works on regulations. Meanwhile, energy companies have leased thousands of acres of land in the basin, and the commission has released draft regulations.

"We have the regulator going ahead with rules without having clearly assessed the potential for those rules," said Susan Kraham, an attorney representing the National Parks Conservation Association, one of the plaintiffs.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Riverkeeper, and the Delaware and Hudson Riverkeepers are also plaintiffs. Kraham said the lawsuit might be consolidated with the attorney general's.

The suit names the commission and the Army Corps as defendants. DRBC spokesman Clarke Rupert said the commission would review the suit before commenting.

Gas drilling companies use a method called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which releases gas trapped in the shale by blasting the rock with water and small amounts of chemicals and sand. Environmentalists fear fracking can irreversibly contaminate groundwater. The petroleum industry says fracking is safe.

Besides underneath New York, the Marcellus Shale also runs below Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Fracking is used extensively in Pennsylvania where drilling has proliferated in the last few years.