Middlefield, New York Fracking Ban Upheld

A second local ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drilling in New York state has been upheld by a state judge and natural gas companies are now contemplating their immediate future there.

According to a Bloomberg report on an unconfirmed decision, the town of Middlefield, N.Y., recently had its ban on fracking drilling for natural gas upheld by State Supreme Court Judge Donald Ceiro Jr. last week. The decision, still to be confirmed by the source, would be the second in the same week that denied a drilling company’s appeal on a local fracking ban.

Also last week, State Supreme Court Judge Phillip Rumsey denied an appeal brought by Anschultz Exploration Corp. seeking to overturn a ban on fracking drilling in the Town of Dryden, N.Y. There are at least 20 local municipal bans on fracking drilling in place in New York state. They were quickly drafted in response to a temporary lifting of a state-wide moratorium on fracking drilling last year. The moratorium had been in place under the term of then-Gov. David Patterson but was lifted soon after current Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office but not allowed until state regulators completed a full safety review of the process. This has at least prompted prospective drillers to apply for permits.

Both decisions last week may put an end to any hopes of future exploration in much of New York’s share of the Marcellus shale formation. By using fracking drilling, natural gas companies expect to tap into what could be a trillion-dollar reserve of the valuable resource but the longer it takes to get those wells active the more time there is to uncover evidence of fracking’s negative impact, especially locally. In New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, and several other states across the country, people living closest to fracking wells can speak of the myriad dangers the exploration process poses, from public health to the environment.

Fracking employs the use of hundreds of chemicals mixed with water, sand, and a drill which are ushered through an underground drilling well until the mixture reaches the shale formation about two miles below the surface. The rock is blasted apart and natural gas is released. Everything sent into the well then rises to the surface and is supposed to be fully captured and contained.

Flaws in well construction and the capturing of waste drilling fluids have led to immediate dangers faced by those closest to fracking wells who believe they are responsible for methane gas contamination of water wells, groundwater contamination and air pollution. There are questions about the safety and effectiveness of the process in this application overall but gas and drilling companies have largely enjoyed lax regulations at the state and federal levels in being granted thousands of drilling permits, leaving just as many people facing these risks.

An attorney representing a dairy farm that was actually trying to overturn Middlefield’s ban told Bloomberg the negative outcome for him could put a damper on the demand for drilling permits in the future in New York, equating it to a “kiss of death.”

In each case (Town of Dryden and Middleville), a State Supreme Court judge determined that local fracking bans were not pre-empted by state law.

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