A coalition of 17 House lawmakers led by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) has called on the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) to conduct an environmental impact study (EIS) on new shale gas drilling in the basin or face legal action.

New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman threatened to file a lawsuit if federal agencies represented at the DRBC failed to conduct an EIS. But in a letter sent Tuesday and obtained by Gannett media, Brigadier Gen. Peter DeLuca, commander and division engineer of the North Atlantic Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and federal representative on the DRBC, called Schneiderman’s bluff.

“We…believe that the federal commission is neither required to produce, nor has the statutory authority to perform a study under NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] as part of this process,” DeLuca wrote.

The DRBC “has been moving towards finalizing regulations to govern and allow widespread shale gas production using high-volume hydraulic fracturing [fracking] combined with horizontal drilling, within the basin’s area. Unfortunately, the commission is taking these significant steps before conducting common-sense, legally required environmental studies,” the coalition wrote in a recent letter to DeLuca.

The coalition said a recent Duke University study justifies the need for an EIS (see Shale Daily, May 11). The study reported high levels of leaked methane in well water collected near shale gas drilling and fracking sites in the Marcellus Shale play. But the Duke scientists said there was no evidence that fracking fluids contaminated the water wells.

To further support the need for an EIS, the group pointed to the April 19 spill at a Chesapeake Energy Corp. drilling site where some fracking fluid spilled into the Susquehanna River watershed following a well blowout in Leroy Township, PA (see Shale Daily, April 26). Also noted were the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s findings that drilling companies have used millions of gallons of diesel fuel in their fracking operations across 19 states (see Shale Daily, Feb. 1).