Anschutz Exploration Responds to Lawsuit Claiming Drilling Operations Contaminated Water Wells in Big Flats, NY

Yesterday MDN ran an article about a lawsuit filed in Chemung County, NY against Denver-based Anschutz Exploration Corporation (see here). The New York City personal injury law firm Napoli Bern Ripka & Associates recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of nine families in the Big Flats, NY area who are experiencing problems with their water wells.

The press release by the law firm implied that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) was used in the Anschutz drilling operation. However, fracking was not used in the Anschutz drilling operation. The release also stated Anschutz drilled into the “Trenton Black River shale formation.” That is a factual error. The Trenton Black River is a limestone deposit, not a shale deposit. Why do these errors matter? It’s obvious this is an attempt by the law firm to tie this case with the red hot issue of hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale in order to gain publicity and perhaps influence the jury pool.

MDN reached out to Anschutz Exploration to clarify. They have done so, setting the record straight on the use of fracking and other items alleged by the law firm. This was their response:

The lawsuit recently filed by a New York City mass tort firm against the Anschutz Exploration Corporation provides a reckless example of a legal system that’s out of control.  The complaint is utterly without merit and is simply the latest step in a series of lawsuits designed to shutdown the American energy industry.

The 44-page complaint – which was filed on behalf of nine families in Chemung County, New York – contains critical factual errors and lacks any semblance of integrity.  It is an act of financial extortion by a self-serving group of lawyers who want to give themselves a massive payday.

While some residents in the Town of Big Flats are experiencing water quality problems, there is absolutely no evidence that activities of the Anschutz Exploration Corporation (AEC) caused these issues.

Shallow, naturally occurring methane has been evident in the region for decades. Local water quality has been a long-standing issue – far predating AEC’s initiation of drilling between February and March 2010 … and even predating the drilling of any natural gas wells in region.

While AEC strongly believes that it is not the source of any contamination in the area, we have been working with state and local officials since the Fall of 2010 to help identify the cause of this problem.

What is clear, is that AEC has operated in a safe and responsible manner, and from the beginning has worked openly and cooperatively with state and local officials.

  • AEC used state-of-the-art equipment and practices to drill conventional wells and did not use hydraulic fracturing.
  • The two wells in question tapped into the Trenton Black River natural gas reservoir –  not a shale formation as alleged in the complaint – at a depth of approximately 10,000 feet.  This depth is well below that of local water wells that are commonly found to depths up to several hundred feet – thereby providing almost 10,000 feet of solid rock separation.
  • AEC welcomed an investigation of local wells by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and cooperated fully with that effort.
  • In November 2010 the DEC released initial results of that study, concluding that it was unlikely that AEC wells caused drinking water contamination.
  • AEC continues to cooperate with the DEC’s ongoing efforts to discover the cause of local water quality problems, as well as with the Chemung County Health Department which is also conducting independent tests.
  • And AEC continues to offer local residents free sampling and analysis of their drinking water, through the independent offices of the Chemung County Health Department.

In short, AEC has conducted its drilling operations in a safe and responsible manner and continues to work cooperatively with state and local officials to help resolve the area’s water quality problems.

On the other hand, the New York City plaintiffs’ lawyers filed this lawsuit, even before the state DEC and county health officials had concluded their inquiries … and are soliciting clients to sue other energy companies throughout the country.

The lawsuit does nothing to reveal the true facts about local drinking water problems, however, its dramatic and unsubstantiated claims risk tainting the region’s reputation – thus victimizing area residents and business owners.

The lawsuit should be seen as part of a broader campaign against the domestic energy industry by a handful of lawyers who are also trying to give themselves a shocking $500+ million payday.

This type of financial extortion of America’s energy industry will have a chilling effect upon domestic production and further compromise our national security.

AEC will not submit to such a shake-down – nor should our nation.  AEC will commit to whatever efforts are necessary to aggressively defend itself.

AEC Contact:  Jim Monaghan, 303-378-8900*

*Anschutz Exploration Corporation Press Statement (Feb 15) – As Emailed to MDN by Jim Monaghan, AEC