- New York, NY 07/01/2014 by Eleanor Randolph (NYT)

The hydraulic fracturing debate in New York State has been so intense that Gov. Andrew Cuomo imposed a moratorium two years ago to study the issue.

That temporary hold did little to calm nerves in some upstate communities, leading Dryden, in the Finger Lakes region, and Middlefield, in Otsego County, to make sure their zoning laws banned fracking within town limits. These communities reasoned that the industrial process would harm their way of life. Or, as the Middlefield board put it, fracking would “irreversibly overwhelm the rural character of the town.”

Energy companies sued, as expected. But on Monday New York’s highest court ruled in favor of Dryden and Middlefield, affirming a lower court ruling that found the towns could use local land use ordinances or laws to ban industrial drilling for natural gas.

This is a very big win for New York’s small towns, and a big loss for energy companies trying to mine what is believed to be a considerable amount of natural gas in the state. So far, almost 180 communities have prohibited fracking, and this ruling is expected to encourage more town boards to do the same.

Lawyers for energy companies have argued that allowing local zoning laws to ban fracking will, in effect, give 932 towns the power to decide the energy policy of New York State. But that’s a strange way of looking at the issue.

The Cuomo administration is expected to finish its review of fracking health risks sometime next year; at which point the state will have a policy — hopefully a clear and useful one that could act as a model for other states. If the administration decides to allow fracking to some degree, towns can choose to permit the process on their land — or not. And, of course, energy companies will be free to lobby those small town boards to convince them that fracking is safe, clean and worth their while.

headline photo
Opponents of hydraulic fracturing in Albany, N.Y., on Jan. 8, 2014.


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