Supposed “First Claim” Filed in New York Alleging Water Contamination from Hydraulic Fracturing Gas Drilling

UPDATE: The headline and assumptions made for this article were based on lack of information and misinformation. The wells drilled by Anschutz were not hydraulically fractured, and the Trenton Black River formation is a limestone formation, not shale as stated in the law firm’s press release. Please see this article for more details: Anschutz Exploration Responds to Lawsuit Claiming Drilling Operations Contaminated Water Wells in Big Flats, NY.

A New York City personal injury law firm has filed a claim on behalf of nine families located in the Elmira, NY area against Anschutz Exploration Corporation, alleging that Anschutz contaminated their drinking water from natural gas drilling activities. The Anschutz drilling is in the Trenton Black River shale formation, not the Marcellus. So why is this news item included in MDN? Because it involves hydraulic fracturing of horizontally drilled natural gas wells, the same method used for drilling in the Marcellus. The Trenton Black River formation is about 10,000 feet down, the Marcellus “only” 5,000 feet down. So opponents of drilling will try to use this to paint all hydraulic fracturing, for any drilling (natural gas or oil, Marcellus or otherwise) as unsafe. Their aim is to ban the practice. The aim of the law firm is to shake down a drilling company and get as much cash as they can. The aim of the families affected is to get safe drinking water. Everyone has an agenda.

But let’s remember something: This is very early in the process. What’s the deal with these water wells? What kind of “contamination” do they have? And when did it start? In the coming weeks and months we’ll learn more, so let’s not pre-judge it. The tendency is to read the headline and assume and move on. Let’s let the science do the talking, shall we?

From the law firm’s press release:

Napoli Bern Ripka & Associates, LLP, a nationally known law firm based primarily in New York City announced today that they have commenced litigation against the Anschutz Exploration Corporation and its subcontractors on behalf of nine families for the contamination of their drinking water due to natural gas exploration and drilling operations conducted by Anschutz Exploration Corporation in Horseheads, New York.  As a result of this contamination, the complaint alleges that the property values for homes owned by the nine families have been reduced and the families’ health has been jeopardized.  The lawsuit was filed with the Supreme Court of The State of New York in Chemung County.

According to the complaint, Anschutz Exploration Corporation owns two natural gas wells that were drilled almost 10,000 feet vertically and then horizontally into New York’s Trenton Black River shale formation, which is roughly twice as deep as the Marcellus shale.  The lawsuit alleges that the company was negligent in their drilling, construction and operation of the gas wells and that as a result of this negligence, the plaintiffs’ water supplies became contaminated, thereby exposing plaintiffs, their families and their properties to combustible gases and toxic chemicals.

The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as the cost of future health monitoring for these unfortunate residents.  This is the first case brought in the State of New York for groundwater contamination caused by natural gas drilling.  Senior Partner Marc Bern said about the suit, "This is a warning to all gas drillers in the great State of New York that the health and safety of the residents and the environment must be placed ahead of corporate profits." 

The suit was filed during a tenuous time in New York as the Executive Order issued by Governor Patterson prohibiting horizontal hydraulic fracturing is scheduled to expire on July 1, 2011.  Napoli Bern Ripka represents many families and individuals throughout the country who are suffering from the effects of natural gas drilling and fracking, including many residents of Dimock, Pa, whose plight was highlighted in the Academy Award® nominated film "Gasland."

*PR Newswire (Feb 14) – First Claim Filed in New York for Contamination Caused by Natural Gas Drilling