Gas Industry Lawsuit Drills Into New York Fracking Opponents

September 29, 2011 at 6:00 am

State Sen. James Seward. Seward is co-sponsoring a bill which would give communities the right to veto plans for fracking. Photo courtesy of nysenate.gov.

On Sept. 28, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) released its formalized draft regulations for hydraulic fracking in the Marcellus Shale.

Since the Department released a preliminary draft of these rules in July, towns across the state have been passing bans on fracking, the controversial drilling method that involves injecting a mixture of water and chemicals deep into the Earth’s surface in order to extract natural gas.

In opposition to a state law, many municipalities in New York State have passed local laws banning fracking, according to the environmental advocacy group Food and Water Watch.

Now the gas industry has filed a lawsuit against one town.

Fracking has the possibility of creating large amounts of wealth for towns across New York state, but its opponents say it also carries the risk of socially and environmentally ruinous, or at least landscape-altering, industrialization. Despite the potential for profit, many towns believe the risks of fracking outweigh the pros, leading to the local laws banning fracking.

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The Capitol Report’s Susan Arbetter looks at a gas company’s lawsuit against the town of Dryden, New York. Video courtesy of WCNY.

The problem is that these local bans violate the DEC’s mining law, which denies municipalities the ability to regulate state industry laws, according to Susan Arbetter of Capitol Report. The towns know full well that they’re violating a state law, but the local bans are essentially protest laws. On Sept. 16, the gas industry fought back.

Denver based oil and gas company Anschutz Explorations sued the upstate New York town of Dryden in a County Supreme Court.

“We picked Dryden because Anschutz has 22,000 acres under lease in the town, so they were directly affected by the ban,” Tom West, attorney for Anschultz Explorations, told Arbetter in an interview.

According to West, the fracking process can only work efficiently and be as environmentally sustainable as possible if the regulations on fracking are the same for every town in the state.

Since New York State passed a ban on fracking three years ago, giving the Department of Environmental Conservation time to explore its environmental impact, the drilling practice has become increasingly bigger news. A Siena poll released on Sept. 27 shows that nearly half of New Yorkers are paying attention to the issue, and that a slightly higher percentage of voters are more inclined to trust fracking’s opponents than its proponents.

Map showing the where frackable shale is (located in pink), and legal status of the towns that have passed bans against fracking. Map courtesy of Food and Water Watch.

A public comment period, which was extended until Dec. 12, will give New Yorkers a chance to voice their opinions about the new drilling regulations, which opponents like the Natural Resources Defense Council say don’t do enough to protect the environment, reported WNYC.

Because many New Yorkers are wary of fracking, and many towns simply don’t want heavy industry moving into their communities, State Sen. James Seward (R) is co-sponsoring a home rule bill that lets individual communities veto state fracking regulations.

“The state clearly regulates gas drilling — certainly local government don’t have that ability. But communities should be representative of what their local citizens say about what the character should look like,” Seward told Arbetter.

Seward’s bill has fracking supporters worried that too much regulation will cause has companies to shy away from New York in favor of less-regulated states like Ohio. As for Dryden, arguments are scheduled for Nov. 4 in the Tomkins County Supreme Court.

Once the public comment period ends in December, the DEC will create a final regulations plan for fracking. When they finish, the plan will go to the New York State Assembly, which will decide whether to pass it and allow fracking in the state.

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