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As the state of New York move closer to approving the contentious gas-drilling method called hydro-fracking, environmental groups and a number of state lawmakers are advocating legal changes to the traditional tort litigation to help property owners seeking compensation if their soil or water is contaminated.
State legislators are considering two proposals that would allow property owners more options, and possibly, an upper hand in court, as well as shifting the burden of proof from property owners to gas companies and establishing an industry-supported remediation fund.
Deborah Goldberg, an attorney with the non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice, said, “The way things are structured right now, the only recourse a landowner has is to sue. And every time there is pollution, the industry claims it’s not responsible.”
Gas drilling is already widespread in upstate New York, but a long-drawn-out debate over whether or not to permit fracking, which involves discharging millions of gallons of water and chemicals at high pressure into wells, has generated renewed scrutiny to the industry. Opponents revealed the likelihood of spills contaminating the land surrounding the gas wells, as well as concerns that the rigorous industrial process could trigger the movement of natural gasses to private water supplies.
However, a lot of environmental law experts and industry attorneys say that a new legislation is unnecessary. They also say that a blend of proposed drilling regulations and the said clean record of the industry will keep accidents at a minimum. They also added that even when accidents do occur, the current legal remedies that are available to property owners are already sufficient.