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The Windsor Town Board took public commentson a resolution in favor of the DEC's authority over fracking. Photo: Matt Richmond/WSKG via Innovation Trail
The Windsor Town Board took public commentson a resolution in favor of the DEC's authority over fracking. Photo: Matt Richmond/WSKG via Innovation Trail

Pro and anti fracking laws duel in Southern Tier

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The debate over hydraulic fracturing in New York State is growing heated in Southern Tier towns. And it's getting more complicated as localities wait for the state to issue its proposed regulations for hydrofracking. Many of the town boards there have passed resolutions supporting state control over gas drilling regulation. As The Innovation Trail's Matt Richmond reports, supporters are using the resolutions as a way to stem the flow of local drilling bans.

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Outside Wednesday’s town board meeting in Windsor, drilling advocates handed out pro-drilling stickers. 150 people showed up, which was a big crowd for around here, and most of them put a sticker on. The issue tonight is Resolution 24: the town board’s decision in May to declare support for the state, not local governments, deciding whether fracking comes to New York.

The Town of Windsor’s resolution is one of approximately 30 passed by town boards, mostly in the Southern Tier, says Binghamton lawyer Scott Kurkoski. He says they were meant as a way to counteract the spread of local drilling bans and said, “There’s been a movement in New York to have towns ban oil and gas drilling or pass a moratorium and many, many towns that frankly are not even in the oil and gas play have been passing these bans.”

More than 100 local bans have been passed in New York, mostly by towns to the north of the Southern Tier and its gas-rich Marcellus Shale. However, the bans don’t represent everyone’s view, according to Kurkoski.

“These towns got to the point where they said, look, we don’t want people that are opposed passing bans to speak for us,” said Kurkoski. He is the Lawyer for the Joint Landowner Coalition of New York. That’s the organization circulating the resolution-in-favor. Kurkoski says the state has undertaken a careful study of hydrofracking over the last four years, and that means that towns should leave fracking decisions to the state.

Still, Albany isn’t inclined to disregard local opinion entirely. In April, Joe Martens, the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, said his agency would consider local wishes when it decides on drilling permits. Governor Cuomo confirmed that last month.

That means, if a town has a ban, the DEC won’t issue permits there, at least not at first. And, on the other side, the state has not said how towns in favor of drilling would be identified. Right now, the resolutions in support of the DEC are the only thing out there to serve that purpose.

Windsor resident Hal Smith was at Wednesday’s meeting. He says the resolution process was flawed because of how quickly it was passed; the town never conducted a public meeting or a poll. Smith said, “This is an extraordinary issue, this is not deciding whether to pave the ball field, that’s how it was handled except this is the most important issue that we’re going to decide in our lifetimes for this community.”

Legally, because it was a resolution, the town didn’t have to hold hearings. Also, since it was only supporting a state agency rather than explicitly supporting gas drilling, the resolution may have became less controversial. Smith said some members of the town board had a conflict of interest in voting for the resolution because they would personally profit from drilling.

Town Supervisor Randy Williams, who worked for a major oil company for 32 years, is one of those board members. At Wednesday’s meeting, Williams made no apologies for leasing his mineral rights to a gas company and he said the process was proper. He said, “I did not feel there was a conflict with this because, as was stated earlier, resolution 24 did not say yes you can drill, or no you cannot. All it said plain and simple let the DEC make up their mind and go from there.”

According to Governor Cuomo, the DEC should make up their mind on the future of natural gas drilling in New York by the end of the summer.

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