Towns Can Ban Fracking, Top New York Court Rules
Posted at 1:16 p.m. on June 30, 2014
New York State’s highest court ruled Monday that state law does not supersede local towns’ “home rule” authority to outlaw hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
It’s a decision that has implications for the continued expansion of domestic natural gas supplies — which in turn affect economic development and transportation, from trucking to rail to shipping.
The two towns involved in Monday’s decision, Dryden and Middlefield, banned fracking in 2011.
The town boards “both studied the issue and acted within their home rule powers in determining that gas drilling would permanently alter and adversely affect the deliberately cultivated, small-town character of their communities,” the New York State Court of Appeals said in its decision.
Two companies, Norse Energy Corp. in the Dryden case, and Cooperstown Holstein Corporation in the Middlefield case, had leased land from local landowners as a prelude to natural gas exploration. The companies argued that New York’s energy policy, as reflected in state law, “requires a uniform approach and cannot be subject to regulation by a melange of the State’s 932 towns,” according to Monday’s ruling.
The court also said that “these appeals are not about whether hydrofracking is beneficial or detrimental to the economy, environment or energy needs of New York, and we pass no judgment on its merits. These are major policy questions for the coordinate branches of government to resolve.”
The decision is an indication that while there is a fracking boom going on in the Marcellus Shale region, which includes Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, at least one state won’t be taking part in it any time soon.
Separately New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been considering whether to continue a de facto moratorium on fracking that has been in effect in his state for six years.
Kate Sinding, an attorney in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s New York office and director of NRDC’s Community Fracking Defense Project, which filed an amicus brief in the cases, welcomed the court’s decision.
The court “sends a message to all the oil and gas drillers anxiously eyeing our borders — the people of New York will not be steamrolled. The case reflects a growing trend of communities around the country taking their fracking fate into their own hands, rather than waiting for the state or federal government to act.”
But Dan Whitten, a spokesman for America’s Natural Gas Alliance, which includes natural gas exploration and production companies such as Chesapeake and Cabot, said, “While we are still reviewing the ruling, it is unique to New York, and it’s important to note that there are a large number of communities in the state that would benefit from the safe and responsible development of natural gas. This in no way prevents natural gas development in the state.”
He added that “New York elected officials have been dragging their feet to the detriment of many struggling families in the southern tier by failing to open New York to production.”
The fracking phenomenon has been a boon to U.S.-based manufacturing and has opened the prospect of greater use of natural gas in vehicles and trains.
The Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) in its 2014 Annual Energy Outlook, released in April, said “Industrial production expands over the next 10 to 15 years as the competitive advantage of low natural gas prices provides a boost to the industrial sector with increasing natural gas use.”
It also said railroads “are considering the use of LNG to fuel locomotives because of the potential for significant cost savings” compared with continuing to use diesel. In its baseline scenario, the EIA said that by 2040 natural gas will account for 35 percent of the rail fuel market.