Source: Times Union (Albany, NY), February 15, 2014
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com
Landowners who want to make money from natural gas hydrofracking on their land on Friday sued Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his commissioners of health and environment over the more than five years spent by the state without coming up with a decision to allow the controversial drilling technique.
Filed in state Supreme Court in Albany County, the lawsuit accused Cuomo of delaying a decision for “his own political expediency” and sought to force the state to end an ongoing environmental review that would allow drilling to begin in the gas-rich Marcellus Shale that runs through parts of the Catskills and the Southern Tier.
It was filed by the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, a Binghamton-based, pro-fracking group that claims it has 70,000 landowners in 14 counties as members.
The coalition is being represented by the Colorado-based Mountain States Legal Foundation, a conservative legal group with a history of advocating for fossil fuel issues and that has been financially supported by energy companies including ExxonMobil and Texaco.
Fracking relies on a high-pressure blend of water, chemicals and sand pumped a mile or more underground to break apart gas-bearing rocks. Opponents claim it can harm air and water quality, but supporters say the process is safe if done properly.
The issue has turned into a political firestorm in New York, where polls show a narrow majority oppose fracking.
Other plaintiffs against the state include Schaefer Timber & Stone, a Deposit, Delaware County company owned by Adolf and Larry Schaefer, which held a 93-acre fracking lease in Colesville, Broome County, with bankrupt Norse Energy Corp.; LADTM LLC, a group including Schaefer that now holds the energy rights to the property; and Kark Family Trust, in Fenton, Broome County, which also holds gas leases in Colesville with Chesapeake Energy Corp.
In addition to Cuomo, the lawsuit also named state Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens and Health Commissioner Nirav Shah, who since September 2012 at Marten’s behest has been conducting a health study of potential health risks from fracking.
The lawsuit calls the health study “nothing more than an excuse” orchestrated by the governor to avoid making a decision.
In a Jan. 31 letter to Martens warning that a lawsuit would be filed unless the state ended its environmental review quickly, Mountain States lawyer Jaimie Cavanaugh, joined by landowners coalition lawyer Scott Kurkoski, wrote that Martens was “duty-bound to promote the development of oil and gas resources in New York state.” They also accused Martens of violating the State Environmental Quality Review Act by asking for a health study.
Formed in 1977 with financing from the late conservative beer billionaire Joseph Coors, the Mountain States group is headed by William Perry Pendley, a former federal energy and minerals official under President Ronald Reagan and who has publicly compared environmentalists to communists.
Pendley last month vowed to sue the federal government if the Bureau of Land Management enacted proposed rules that would require disclosure of chemicals injected underground during fracking, as well as set tougher standards for demonstrating well bore integrity and managing flowback water that returns to the surface with the gas.
The foundation has filed lawsuits seeking to weaken affirmative action, racial quotas in hiring, and the Voting Rights Act.