As Fracking Bans Hold Water, Other N.Y. Towns Jump on ‘Ban Wagon’

February 29, 2012 at 4:00 am

Last week, two New York Supreme Courts ruled that local bans on fracking did not violate state laws. While the natural gas industry is expected to continue fighting the bans, the rulings have bolstered confidence in other towns which have already passed bans, and others that are in the process of doing so, or are considering it.

The fracking ban movement started to really build momentum on Feb. 24, when a State Supreme Court Judge ruled that Middlefield, N.Y., had the ability to ban gas drilling within its borders. Three days earlier, another Supreme Court Justice turned down Anschultz Exploration Corporation’s case to overturn a fracking ban in the town of Dryden, N.Y.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a controversial natural gas drilling technique, which proponents say could be highly lucrative for the state while also creating jobs, but opponents argue it’s economically unsustainable, environmentally toxic and could potentially contaminate New York City’s water supply due to small earthquakes below the Earth’s surface.

Take a look at the map below to view where the battlefields are in this ongoing judicial war.

As this map indicates, many towns in New York (dark blue) have already passed bans on fracking, while others (light blue) have pending bans. Map courtesy of Food and Water Watch.

Now, other towns across the state, bolstered by the recent court rulings, are expected to follow suit, reported Reuters.

St. Johnsville, N.Y. was the most recent town to pass a ban on fracking — a one year moratorium that began on Feb. 25. Right now, the biggest battleground is Albany County, where a new county-wide fracking ban bill was introduced on Feb. 24, immediately after the ban in Dryden was upheld.

The legality of these bans came into question back in September, when Anschultz filed the first lawsuit against a municipality, Dryden, for banning fracking in New York State. At the time, six counties and multiple towns had passed bans against fracking, but many feared that their bans violated the New York Department of Environmental Conservation‘s mining law, which denies municipalities the ability to regulate state industry laws.

A contractor closes a valve at a fracking facility in Claysville, P.A. Recent judicial rulings have upheld local bans on fracking in New York State, bolstering confidence among opponents of the drilling practice. AP/Keith Srakocic,

However, the two most recent rulings state that while the towns of Dryden and Middlefield don’t have the ability to regulate how the industry conducts itself, their outright bans don’t violate the law.

“The state maintains control over the ‘how’ of (drilling) procedures while the municipalities maintain control over the ‘where,'” said Supreme Court Justice Donald Cerio at the Middlefield ruling.

Both opponents and proponents of fracking say they expect these legal battles over local bans to continue until the state makes a decision on whether fracking will be legal in New York. And that won’t happen until the Department of Environmental Conservation releases its final fracking regulation plan, expected sometime in the coming months.

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