Fracking Stirs Argument In New York Appeals Court

Fracking has placed local communities against the energy industry for years, and two cases being heard in New York appeals court Thursday further the argument over whether the law overpowers local authority when it comes to oil and gas development.

According to the Associated Press, over 50 New York municipalities have banned gas drilling in recent years, and more than 100 have placed moratoriums on drilling activities. State Supreme Court judges have upheld bans that were challenged in Dryden and Middlefield, two rural towns in central New York. Appeals to those decisions will be argued Thursday, and a decision is expected in around six weeks.

Residents throughout New York are concerned that fracking damages the local environment and resist the state lifting its 5-year-old ban on gas drilling that uses high-volume hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing takes place when a pressurized fluid spreads fractures throughout a layer of rock. The process can occur naturally, but when it is induced intentionally, the process is known as fracking. Since the late 1990s, fracking has spread has a means of releasing oil and gas for extraction.

Fracking accounts for much of the natural gas produced in the US, and may account for the majority going into the future. The practice has led to reduced energy costs over the past decade, making the incentive to continue the practice quite obvious. Nevertheless, the practice comes with clear environmental risks.

The highly-pressurized water injected into deep rock deposits is laden with chemicals, and communities across the country have dreaded the impact of contaminated drinking water. People fear chemicals rising up to the surface and any resulting reduction in air quality.

Heavy equipment has to be moved to begin the practice, and massive trucks carrying water and sand regularly commute to fracking sites. Such movement can congest small towns that are not accustomed to such traffic and tear up local roads. Local residents are then responsible for footing the repair bill.


Today’s cases present contrasting appeals. In Dryden, the town board voted unanimously to amend zoning law to ban gas drilling. Six weeks later, the town was sued by Anschutz Exploration, a Denver-based company with gas leases in the town. After the ban was upheld, another company, Norse Energy, stepped up to appeal. In Middlefield, a dairy farmer is appealing a ban that prevents her from reaping the economic benefits of drilling for gas on her farm. The two cases, taken together, complicate the imagery that fracking arguments pit small towns and individuals on one side and large energy companies on the other.

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