The Environmental Working Group (EWG) this week sued New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration to obtain documents that would show how the state has drafted its plan to permit high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling for unconventional natural gas.

The petition, filed on Monday in the State of New York Supreme Court, County of Albany, seeks records from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the governor’s office (No. 5159-12). EWG’s original freedom of information law (FOIL) request filed last March sought to determine whether the state’s decision-making process on the drilling issue was “fair, transparent and based on science,” as it said Cuomo had promised.

DEC a year ago published a revised supplemental environmental impact statement on fracking, followed by draft drilling rules (see Shale Daily, Dec. 1, 2011; Sept. 29, 2011; Sept. 8, 2011). According to the EWG, the FOIL request determined that gas industry representatives were granted access to the state’s draft rules up to six weeks before they were made public (see Shale Daily, June 29).

The lawsuit contends that the Cuomo administration failed to honor EWG’s request under the FOIL for “full disclosure of public records” that showed communications between the governor, six senior administration officials and about two dozen representatives of the oil and natural gas industry. The contacts were said to have occurred “during the critical period between Jan. 1, 2011 and March 6 of this year, when industry representatives were striving to influence environmental regulators charged with drafting a 1,500-page plan that would govern future drilling,” according to EWG.

“We already know that state regulators gave drillers exclusive behind-the-scenes access to draft regulations that were stacked in favor of natural gas companies and riddled with scientific gaps,” said EWG General Counsel Heather White. “The Cuomo administration’s grudging response to our FOIL request raises questions about its commitment to science and open government.”

Cuomo is expected to announce soon his decision on whether to lift the drilling moratorium. The petition by EWG is scheduled to be heard by the state’s high court on Oct. 26.

The lawsuit preceded a letter sent to Cuomo this week by representatives from 14 conservation groups and more than 425 statewide officials that calls on the governor to reject any plans to expand gas drilling. Instead, the groups want the governor to expand renewable energy sources.

“Governor Cuomo, your energy policy should promote policies that encourage the development of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that do not threaten public health and the environment,” states the letter, which was distributed by New Yorkers Against Fracking.

“In choosing renewable energy over fracking as New York’s path to clean, abundant energy, you will be embracing a climate policy that will set New York onto the international stage as an innovative leader. As an energy policy, natural gas, accessed by [fracking], is neither a clean, renewable energy source, nor a bridge fuel to a clean energy future; it is a bridge to nowhere, which has the potential to create an environmental, health and economic disaster for generations to come in New York State.”

Among those signing the letter were representatives from, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Earthworks, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, Citizen Action of New York, Food & Water Watch and Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy.

Chad Davis, a Democrat on the Oneida County, NY, board of legislators, said more than 35 officials from his county joined in signing the letter. “Once the gas industry gets their foot in the door in New York state, there’s going to be no turning back,” he said. “Over a period of time, not tomorrow…there’s no telling what these plumes will do.”