New York Fracking Ban Faces Legal Challenge

A New York attorney is challenging the recent state-wide ban on fracking activity, seeking to allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing on his land, despite state studies that suggest it will pose a risk to public health and the environment. 

The lawsuit was filed by David Morabito in the New York Supreme Court of Allegany County in late May, against the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Morabito brought the complaint just before a state-wide hydraulic fracturing ban was finalized in June.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, involves the injection of a mixture of water, sand and fluids, which the gas industry has fought to keep secret, into the ground at extremely high pressure, cracking shale deposits and freeing trapped natural gas, which can then be removed. Those fluids are then sucked from the ground and often disposed of in wastewater wells.

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The controversial process has come under increasing scrutiny over the last several years, as it has become an increasingly popular method of gas extraction with the development of new drilling techniques and the discovery of large shale reserves.

Critics have linked fracking to a variety of pollutants, claiming it puts groundwater sources at risk and that increased truck traffic, air pollution and other problems can reduce property values and sicken nearby residents.

On May 13, the New York DEC released the final version of an environmental impact statement on fracking, indicating that there is significant risk from fracking due to water contamination, wastewater treatment and increased truck traffic. The report determined that regulating fracking operations in the state would be so expensive that it would not financially be worth the effort.

The report was the final version of a preliminary report published in December 2014. In the wake of that report, state officials announced a hydraulic fracturing ban which was made official in June following the release of the finalized version of the environmental impact statement.

Morabito argues that the report is actually in favor of high-volume fracking and that the state’s decision not to let him have fracking wells built on his land was “arbitrary and capricious.” While the lawsuit is specific to the conditions on his land, some observers say the lawsuit could spark a number of similar challenges to the state ban.

The ban is also expected to face challenges from industry groups, such as the American Petroleum Institute.

Fracking Environmental, Health Concerns Mount

Environmentalists, a number of lawmakers, local communities and consumer advocacy groups have expressed concerns for years that hydrofracking presents a threat to groundwater supplies and the environment.

Last year a Texas jury awarded $2.9 million in damages to a family who sued a hydraulic fracturing company for being a public nuisance. According to allegations raised in a fracking lawsuit filed by the Parr family, nearly two dozen wells near their property caused a private nuisance, exposing them to toxic chemicals that damaged their health and lowered property value.

Recently, a number of studies have shown that there may be a link between fracking and earthquakes, suggesting that the intense pressure from the unidentified fluids can cause ground tremors violent enough to damage property and cause injuries and possibly deaths.

Earlier this month the Oklahoma Supreme Court gave approval for a resident to sue energy companies for personal injuries she suffered during a November 2011 earthquake blamed on hydraulic fracturing and wastewater injection wells used to dispose of fracking fluids.


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