Citizens Fight Fracking Near New Orleans

     NEW ORLEANS (CN) - The Army Corps of Engineers set an insufficient comment period and failed to provide critical information for a hydraulic fracturing permit it intends to issue in fast-growing St. Tammany Parish, near New Orleans, a citizens group claims in court.
     The Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany sued the Army Corps of Engineers, two of its top officials and the Secretary of the Army, in Federal Court.
     St. Tammany Parish is across Lake Ponchartrain from New Orleans. It's one of the fastest-growing areas in Louisiana.
     The Corps intend to issue Clean Water Act permits and dredge and fill permits to (nonparty) Helis Oil & Gas Co., authorizing the first hydraulic fracturing process ever in St. Tammy Parish, the Concerned Citizens say. It would allow Helis "to dredge and fill an approximately 10-acre area of wetlands in St. Tammany Parish, at the peril of the surrounding environment and the aesthetic, recreational and commercial interests of the plaintiff's members," the complaint states.
     The Concerned Citizens claim that the comment period - from April 14 to May 15 - was insufficient, and that the Corps of Engineers "failed to provide critical information to the public necessary to provide meaningful public comment," in violation of the Clean Water Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.
     The Concerned Citizens point out that hydraulic fracturing can involve injecting as many as 750 chemicals into wells to fracture the shale around them. Fracking has been widely linked to aquifer pollution, in some cases, causing flammable tap water to flow from kitchen sinks.
     The proposed fracking would be about one mile from Lakeshore High School, and its 880 students, according to the complaint.
     The Concerned Citizens, which claims 2,000 members, say the project stirred tremendous local interest, and opposition, and that the Corps provided legally inadequate information about it - for instance, merely a summary of the fracking operations rather than the full permit application.
     They want issuance of permits enjoined until the Corps meets its legal obligations.
     They are represented by Marianne Cufone.