Lifton Introduces Bill Imposing Strict Liability on Hydrofracking

December 14, 2009

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D/WF- 125th AD) has introduced “The Natural Gas Exploration and Extraction Liability Act of 2010” in the Assembly, that would impose strict liability for all damages shown to be caused by activities associated with natural gas hydrofracking. The bill applies to corporations and companies engaged in natural gas hydrofracking activities, as well as any individual, association, corporation or other entity that owns an interest in land that is subject to a lease or other grant that permits these activities, unless said lease or grant was executed prior to the effective date of this law.

“The oil and gas industry and the DEC have repeatedly assured us that natural gas drilling is safe and well-regulated, so I wouldn’t expect the industry to oppose this bill,” Lifton said.

Lifton emphasized, “However, I feel it’s prudent to create a safety net so landowners and municipalities aren’t left paying for damages and clean-up if problems arise. Numerous hazards have been associated with the hydrofracking process of extracting natural gas from dense shale deposits like the Marcellus Shale. Chemicals used in fracking may be toxic, cause life-threatening illnesses, including cancer, and can be non-biodegradable and difficult or impossible to remove once they enter the natural environment. There is a possibility that the fracking chemicals that remain underground may migrate or seep through fractures in the underground formations, cracks in the well-bore casing, and through abandoned wells to pollute groundwater.”

In addition, she said, “Construction of large well pads (up to five acres), the use of millions of gallons of water and large numbers of trucks transporting water, fracking chemicals, waste fluids and other equipment to and from the well site can lead to excessive noise, air pollution, deterioration of roads and bridges, contaminated groundwater, including private and public water supplies, vibrating of surrounding structures, fires, explosions and, in some cases, earthquakes. Leaks and spills of fracking chemicals from the trucks and waste pits have also been reported, causing contamination of surface waters.”

“Any of these hazards could result in irreparable and costly damage to a landowner’s drinking water, home or livelihood in agriculture or tourism, as well as to roads and bridges maintained by municipalities. If drilling occurs in New York State, those responsible for any adverse impact must be held strictly liable,” Lifton said.

Although individuals, businesses and municipalities can, under existing law, recover damages from drillers and landowners who have allowed drilling on their property, it would be necessary for such plaintiffs to prove that negligent conduct caused the damage. This bill will allow recovery once a causal connection between the drilling and related activity and the damage has been proven. This "strict liability" is found throughout the law, most relevantly in the Navigation Law regarding damages that result from petroleum spills.