An appeals court ruling will allow New York municipalities to ban hydraulic fracturing—fracking—with the use of local zoning laws.
The four-judge appellate division ruled unanimously that state mining and drilling laws do not supercede local governmental authority to control land use, said The Associated Press (AP). More than 50 municipalities in the state have banned gas drilling in recent years and more than 100 have put moratoriums in place against drilling activities, the AP noted.
New York remains undecided as to how to proceed with a five-year-old moratorium on fracking. State health commissioner Nirav Shah said no schedule is in place for completion of a public health fracking analysis for Governor Andrew Cuomo, who will be making the fracking decision. “The real solution to this problem is for the state to ban fracking, but until that happens, local governments have a responsibility to protect their citizens from the oil and gas industry,” said Kelly Branigan, a founding member of Middlefield Neighbors, the group which organized around the fracking ban, said the AP.
Fracking drilling involves injecting massive amounts of water, sand, a drill, and a mix of more than 600 chemicals underground via a concrete well that extends to an underground bed of shale rock. When this combination reaches the rock, it is blasted apart and natural gas is released and supposed to be returned to the surface and captured.
Fracking critics have long argued that fracking devastates the environment and contaminates groundwater and underground water aquifers; this contaminates nearby and widespread fresh water supplies. Either through the fault of shoddy wells, poorly trained well workers, or through a questionable drilling process altogether, natural gas and the contents of the drilling fluid may be released underground through cracks in the wells or the fractures created by the drilling. This, many area residents closest to wells believe, has led to a contamination of their private water supplies, in some cases rendering water completely contaminated.
We also previously wrote that environmental researchers said they discovered greenhouse gases at excessive levels near Australia’s largest coal seam gas field, which is associated with fracking. The discovery prompted calls to stop expansion of fracking there until researchers can understand if the practice is contributing to climate change. The report revealed methane, carbon dioxide, and other compounds at an excess of three times normal background levels.
One of the more dangerous fracking issues may be that from silica sand, which is used in the millions of pounds at fracking sites in the United States, In fact, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) believes silica sand becoming airborne is putting thousands of well workers and those living downwind of an active well at serious risk of health problems. At least 4 million pounds of silica sand are used at a typical, active fracking well. Ingesting too much silica sand can lead to silicosis, a dangerous and irreversible health complication that is marked by breathing trouble. The disease gets progressively worse and only preventative measures can be taken to avoid it altogether.
Meanwhile, New York sits atop a piece of the massive Marcellus shale formation that’s thought to contain billions of dollars in natural gas reserves. As gas drilling has expanded and thousands of wells have been opened in just the last few years surrounding areas, residents from New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia, and New Jersey have raised concerns over the safety of fracking drilling.
While some believe fracking is an answer to a downturned economy and energy independence, more believe the drilling is putting the fresh water supplies for millions of people at risk. The risk is greater for those living closest to the drilling boom.
In this case, although industry strongly disagrees with the appellate court’s ruling, the town of Dryden said it was pleased. “The people who live here and know the town best should be the ones deciding how our land is used, not some executive in a corporate office park thousands of miles away,” Dryden Supervisor Mary Ann Sumner said in a statement, according to the AP.