Court dismisses 2 lawsuits challenging NY health, environmental review of shale gas drilling

A judge has dismissed two lawsuits challenging the state's delay in finishing its health and environmental analysis of the potential impact of shale gas development in New York, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Monday.

The lawsuits were filed on behalf of the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, claiming 70,000 members, and the trustee of bankrupt Norse Energy. State Supreme Court Justice Roger McDonough dismissed both lawsuits, saying the petitioners did not have standing to sue Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Health Department to compel completion of the review.

Shale gas development using horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has been on hold in New York since the environmental impact review was launched in July 2008.

Schneiderman called the decision "an important victory in our effort to ensure all New Yorkers have safe water to drink and a clean, healthy environment."

The lawsuits claimed the Department of Environmental Conservation had abused its discretion in delaying completion of its environmental review so the Democratic governor could avoid making the politically complicated decision to allow or ban fracking.

Fracking involves pumping huge volumes of water, sand and chemicals underground to crack rocks to release gas. Improved technology has allowed energy companies to gain access to huge stores of natural gas but has raised widespread concerns that it might lead to groundwater contamination and other ill effects.

Scott Kurkoski, attorney for the landowners' coalition, said an appeal is likely.

"Landowners have been prevented from using an environmental resource," Kurkoski said in a statement. "These are fundamental property rights that cannot be denied by a court."

The landowners are also represented by the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Lakeland, Colorado, that claims to support individual property rights and limited government.