The New York State Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, is expected to rule soon on a case that will determine whether local municipalities have the right to ban shale gas development using hydraulic fracturing, a controversial drilling practice often called "fracking."
The court will rule on whether it was the intent of a 1981 amendment to New York's energy law to supersede all local laws or ordinances, effectively making the state's natural gas regulatory process for drilling the only approval required to drill.
Six local municipalities have banned fracking: Dolgeville, Minden, Oppenheim, Palatine, the town of St. Johnsville and the village of St. Johnsville. If the court rules in favor of the natural gas companies, those bans will be overturned, although fracking will continue to be banned throughout New York state, as it has been since 2008, pending the state Department of Health's review of the practice.
Natural gas industry advocates have argued allowing localities to use their zoning authority to curtail drilling could result in an unworkable patchwork of regulations that could stymie natural gas production. Proponents of local authority argue the 1981 amendment does not take away the long-standing zoning authority of localities.
The court should uphold the authority of local governments to decide whether they want to allow fracking. Recent reporting by The Associated Press shows nearly all of the 170 local bans on fracking in New York state have occurred in municipalities that are not being aggressively pursued for natural gas drilling, while about 40 other New York municipalities, those closest to New York's piece of the Marcellus Shale formation along the Pennsylvania border, have passed laws supporting fracking. This shows local people can make up their own minds when facing the potential gains and risks associated with fracking. If the day ever comes when the natural gas industry is keen to tap into the deeper Utica shale, which does run through the local area, we think the towns and villages should have a say in whether drilling is allowed.