NY village appeals ban on fracking water sales

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 20, 2014 at 3:26 pm •  Published: February 20, 2014
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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Environmental groups and a Steuben County village are heading to appeals court in their disagreement over the sale of water to a Shell Oil Company subsidiary for shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania.

The Sierra Club and People for a Healthy Environment won a court injunction in March 2013 stopping the Finger Lakes village of Painted Post from further water shipments under a 2012 contract with SWEPI LP, a Shell subsidiary drilling gas wells in Pennsylvania.

The five-year contract called for up to a million gallons of water per day shipped by rail, and Painted Post officials anticipated earning up to $2.5 million a year on the deal.

But a trial judge ruled that Painted Post officials improperly conducted the project's environmental impact review and halted the sales, a decision the New York State Conference of Mayors says could endanger thousands of water-sale contracts that help financially struggling towns in New York.

A state appeals court in Rochester will hear arguments Monday in the appeal by the village and SWEPI.

Joseph Picciotti, the lawyer representing Painted Post and SWEPI, didn't immediately return a call for comment Thursday. But Jane Tsamardinos, a lawyer for the Conference of Mayors, wrote in a court brief in support of the appeal that "the trial court's holding must be reversed to prevent yet another unfunded mandate on local governments and their taxpayers."

Water is one of the main concerns for opponents of shale gas drilling, which requires millions of gallons mixed with chemicals and sand to hydraulically fracture, or frack, underground rock formations to release the gas. Opponents object to the quantity of fresh water used in the process and the huge volumes of polluted water that must be disposed of afterward.

New York has had a moratorium on shale gas drilling since it began an environmental and health impact review in 2008. But some municipalities have tried to profit from shale gas drilling across the border in Pennsylvania by selling water or landfill services for leftover dirt and rock from the drilling.

New York recently implemented new regulations that require a permit to withdraw more than 100,000 gallons a day from surface or ground water. The permit is supposed to take into account ecological needs and best water conservation practices and be equitable to all users, said Roger Downs of the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter.

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