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Attorney Keeps Word, Files Fracking Lawsuit Against NY Officials

An attorney hired to press the New York Department of Environmental Protection (DEC) to release a study on high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) has followed through on his threat to sue the agency, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other officials.

Thomas West, an attorney for The West Firm PLLC in Albany, NY, filed a lawsuit Tuesday with the state Supreme Court after the DEC did not complete a supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS) on HVHF. West had given the DEC two weeks to comply with the request (see Shale Daily,Dec. 3).

"We received no response from them whatsoever," West told NGI's Shale Daily on Wednesday. "The only thing that happened was this press conference on Monday, which turned out to be a big snafu for the governor."

At the press conference, Cuomo repeated his pledge to make a decision over whether to lift the de facto moratorium on HVHF before the next gubernatorial election in 2014 (see Shale Daily,Dec. 17). During the meeting, state Department of Health Commissioner Nirav Shah, one of the defendants in the lawsuit filed by West, made some rare comments about a health impact analysis he was tasked with by the DEC (see Shale Daily, Sept. 24, 2012).

"Commissioner Shah made some very candid statements," West said. "He confirmed that his health review is not a transparent process, that it's being done behind closed doors, and the specifics of what's he's doing will not be made available to the public until it's final. When he was asked when it is going to be done, he said 'when I'm done.' So he confirmed it's an open-ended process with no end in sight."

West added that he spoke with a reporter after the press conference. "She told me that you could cut the tension in the room with a knife when the fracking discussion started," he said. "The governor did not look very happy at the answers that were being given, which are contrary to his goal of having a transparent government.

"He's been able to do that for the most part, but not on this issue. This issue has been anything but transparent."

West has been retained by two subsidiaries of Norway's Norse Energy Corp. ASA -- Norse Energy Corp. USA and Norse Energy Holdings Inc. -- which entered Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in October (see Shale Daily, Oct. 18). Norse holds oil and gas leases for about 130,000 net acres in the state's portion of the Marcellus and Utica shales, and it appears the move to compel release of the SGEIS is motivated in part to give value to the leases as part of Norse's bankruptcy (see Shale Daily, July 31).

In September 2012, DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens asked Shah to conduct a health impact analysis of HVHF before the DEC completed a SGEIS on the practice (see Shale Daily, Sept. 24, 2012). The SGEIS was ordered in July 2008 by then-Gov. David Paterson, effectively placing a moratorium on drilling horizontal wells in New York.

If the current moratorium on high-volume fracking in the state were to be removed, producers have shown interest in exploring the counties of Steuben, Chemung, Tioga, Broome, Tompkins, Cortland, Onondaga, Chenango and Ostego, which sit just over the border from the northeastern Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale hot spot counties of Tioga, Bradford, Susquehanna and Lycoming.

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