$150M suit claims driller tainted wells

Source: Times Union (Albany, NY), February 18, 2011
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A $150 million lawsuit against a natural gas drilling company in Chemung County is being billed as the first in modern memory against drillers for allegedly polluting ground water, according to a New York City law firm.
The suit, filed Feb. 10 in state Supreme Court, accuses Colorado-based Anschutz Exploration Corp. of drilling two wells that released methane and other chemicals that allegedly fouled the drinking well water of nine families near Horseheads, north of the Elmira Corning Regional Airport.
The wells, which were permitted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation in December 2009, did not involve hydrofracking, said Marc Bern, a partner with New York City-based law firm of Napoli Bern Ripka & Associates, which represents the families.
The law firm represents landowners claiming water contamination elsewhere in the United States, where hydrofracking is allowed, including in Dimock, Pa., which was highlighted in the Oscar-nominated film “Gasland.”
A spokesman for Anschutz denounced the lawsuit as “financial extortion” and said the drilling was not the source of the water well problems.
Company spokesman Jim Monaghan said a November investigation by DEC found it was “unlikely that AEC wells caused drinking water contamination.”
According to a DEC report, “The way the gas wells were constructed makes it unlikely that gas from deeper formations could migrate through multiple cemented casing strings into any aquifers near the surface.”
Further tests by Anschutz “gave no indication of gas migration,” according to DEC, which will continue to monitor the area.
“This type of financial extortion of America’s energy industry will have a chilling effect upon domestic production and further compromise our national security,” Monaghan said.
Hydrofracking is a controversial drilling technique that involves a high-pressure mix of chemicals, sand and water injected deep underground to free trapped gas. Opponents claim the technique can pollute groundwater, while the industry insists that it is safe.
Hyrdrofracking is still under review by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which is still mulling rules needed before permits can be issued. An executive order issued by former Gov. David Paterson, and renewed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, placed a moratorium on hydrofracking through June.

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