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article imageFracking in New York towns could be decided by courts

By Lynn Herrmann     Jul 9, 2011 in Environment
Ithaca - Environmental officials in New York have created plans for regulations allowing hydraulic fracturing in much of the state, with the exception of key watersheds, aquifers, and state land, exceptions an oil and gas attorney calls “legally questionable.”
Even as some towns in New York have issued local fracking bans, energy companies are positioning themselves for legal battles over those bans and setbacks as they attempt to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale.
“I think some of the bans and setbacks are legally questionable,” said Tom West, an Albany, NY oil and gas attorney, ProPublica reports. “When they start putting areas off limits to drilling or production that raises a significant legal issue.”
The attorney claims any bans would deprive property owners and leaseholders the right of property development.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves the injection of chemical-laden water under extreme pressure, many of those chemicals carcinogenic agents, to break apart underground shale formations for releasing the gas they contain. The procedure, highly controversial, is believed to be a major factor in contamination of underground water sources throughout the US where fracking is occurring.
In Ithaca, town supervisor Herb Engman said more than 90,000 people are dependent on streams and a lake within the city limits for their drinking water and said those waters deserve the same protections as those in the watersheds of New York City and Syracuse, two cities which will ban fracking under the newly proposed regulations.
“I don’t see the difference between the concerns for their watershed and the watershed for the people of Ithaca,” Engman said, according to ProPublica. “We need to keep our waterways pure.” Currently, 12 percent of Ithaca is leased to drilling companies, but Engman said he and the city attorney are confident courts will uphold city zoning rules in any legal challenge.
Still, he sees a looming legal battle. “We’re sort of expecting that,” Engman said, the Star Gazette reports. “I don't imagine the gas companies would give up without a fight, and that's one of the reasons why a number of towns in Tompkins are doing the same thing, so we can jointly defend.”
As cities and states across the country face increasing budget deficits, one has to ask where funds will come from to do legal battle with the oil and gas industry. One can already see capitulation on the horizon.
This week, New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)commissioner Joseph Martens, in extolling the virtues of his department’s latest fracking review, suggested any unresolved disagreements between municipalities and drilling companies could end up in court.
“If we can't decide on our own, then it may become an issue just between the applicant and the local government,” Martens said, the Star Gazette reports. “It may be that the courts will have to decide if something is consistent or not consistent (with local ordinances)”
Coinciding with the dramatic spike in the price of oil and gas within the last couple of years, fracking has exploded across the US, pitting those concerned about safe drinking water against the all-powerful oil and gas industry.
In Pennsylvania, a frack well blew up in April, sending frack waste water into a tributary of the Susquhanna River. In Wyoming, residents are battling not just for the right to clean air, but for safe drinking water, both issues associated with the state’s fracking boom and long-established petroleum industry.
Meanwhile in Texas, fracking for Texas oil in the Eagle Ford Shale has begun in earnest. Centered in south Texas, the fracking boom is bringing hundreds of millions of dollars into the perennially impoverished part of the state. Blinded by the lure of easy money, in the form of obscene lease agreements and the spillover effect they’ve brought with them, most in the region are turning their blind eyes away from any possible environmental impacts.
A member of the Safe Fracking Coalition, based in Laredo, recently told this reporter “fracking can be done safely,” but offered no suggestions as to how it could occur. Such is the attitude of many who see the fracking industry as a hidden blessing.
Martens, the DEC commission in New York, also believes fracking can be done safely. “We've deliberated, we've considered the comments, we have looked at what's gone on in other states,” he said, according to the Star Gazette. “And at the end of this stage of the deliberations, we've concluded that high-volume hydrofracking can be undertaken safely, along with strong and aggressive regulations.”
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