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Legal Maneuver Launched to End New York Fracking Delay

An attorney hired by two companies navigating their way through bankruptcy court has demanded that the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) complete a supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS) on high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) within two weeks or face additional legal proceedings.

Thomas West, an attorney for The West Firm PLLC in Albany, NY, 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).

Documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of New York last month showed the trustee in the case, Mark Wallach, wanted to hire West in an effort to compel the DEC and other state officials to release the SGEIS (see Shale Daily, Nov. 25).

"It's really unfortunate," West said Monday. "Here you have a company that's in liquidation proceedings. They had 100 employees at one point, but they've all lost their jobs. I've had some of the investors at Norse contact me to participate in this litigation because they've lost their investment. We've also had landowners hoping to cash in who have died, and people have gone into foreclosure."

In the letter to Martens, West said that should the DEC not follow "a definitive and reasonable timetable for the completion of the SGEIS process in the very near future, Norse will seek mandamus relief from the courts of New York State to compel finalization of the SGEIS."

West said he doubts the DEC will meet the two-week deadline.

"I just don't think Gov. Cuomo realizes that there are real consequences to the delays that he's creating here, for really no reason at all other than politics," West said.

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, 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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