Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A new salvo in the fracking debate

Some time ago the town of Dryden, which is a few short miles from Ithaca, banned fracking on the town's land. Their concern about environmental contamination was less significant than in other towns - Dryden is significantly more conservative than Ithaca - and was more or less focused on their rural zoning laws. I can sympathize; besides a section connected to Rt 17 that has some strip malls, Dryden is a quiet rural town, complete with a historic town center and church, and its own speed trap. Ultimately, they decided to class fracking as heavy industry and banned it from their land due to zoning regulations.

That comes into conflict with NYS DEC rulings and with a state law, from the 1970s, that explicitly assigned mineral and energy rights management to the state. The result is an interesting mix, since article IX of the New York State constitution enshrines the local municipality's right to regulate and control its land. There's now a lawsuit in progress over the rights to drill, since a company has apparently invested $5 million in the belief that the town had no jurisdiction. The conflict is probably going to head straight to the state supreme court.

Honestly, while Federal or State land is one issue, my opinion tends towards the town of Dryden here. The people who live there own the land, if not individually then through the town. Regardless of their motivation for the decision, it's up to them whether they want to partake of an opportunity or not. Doubtlessly, though, it will almost certainly come down to the most arcane of points in the judicial ruling. Yet another reason I won't become a lawyer any time soon.

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