By Jessica Dye
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge in Brooklyn dismissed a lawsuit on Monday brought by New York state and environmental groups challenging proposed natural gas drilling in the Delaware River basin.
U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis threw out the action on procedural grounds, saying there was no basis for the lawsuit since the regulations it sought to halt had not yet been finalized.
"The court concludes that this dispute is not currently fit for judicial review," Garaufis wrote. "The harms that plaintiffs ultimately are concerned about are speculative, and rely on a chain of inferences that may never come to pass."
New York and several environmental groups sued the U.S. government and Delaware River Basin Commission in 2011, asking for environmental studies to determine the effect of gas drilling on the basin, which supplies water to about 15 million people, including some New York City residents.
The DRBC, a federal-interstate commission that develops and governs the basin's water resources, issued draft regulations in 2010 and revised draft regulations in 2011 that would govern natural gas exploration and extraction in the basin.
The proposal would allow as many as 18,000 wells in the basin, some of which would be developed using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, where underground gas is extracted by injecting a high-pressure stream of water and chemicals.
The rules have not yet been finalized and, except for a few test wells, gas development in the basin has been halted. But New York and the environmental groups said there should have been a comprehensive environmental study performed by the commission before the proposal was issued and that the final regulations should be blocked until one is completed.
As the amount of fracking activity has exploded across the country, states such as New York are trying to figure out how to safely expand gas drilling while protecting sensitive natural resources, including drinking water.
New York is currently working on its own environmental review to determine whether to permit fracking in the state. Some towns have taken steps to ban the practice within their borders and at least two of those bans have survived initial challenges in New York state courts.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn declined to comment, as did the New York attorney general's office. The commission did not immediately return requests for comment. (Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Andre Grenon)