Late last month, New York’s high court issued a ruling that put the debate over the merits and risks of shale gas development in the hands of local governments. The much-anticipated ruling – a monumental victory for grassroots political action — settled a long-standing question regarding the state’s jurisdictional control over the matter. Yet it raised many other questions about how local governments will respond.
There are towns for drilling and towns against drilling. But much of the fight over where and to what extent shale gas development – including high volume hydraulic fracturing — will be a part of the New York landscape will play out in towns with no stated policy. Do communities that don’t want fracking need to actively pass a ban? Can communities that want fracking amend zoning laws to encourage it? What happens if they do neither?
These questions are predicated on a pending decision by Governor Andrew Cuomo on whether to allow fracking anywhere in the state. While the outcome of that remains anybody’s guess, we know from Cuomo’s past remarks that he favors a plan to begin issuing shale gas permits in towns with no local bans. These happen to be along the border with Pennsylvania, which also sit over the most viable parts of the Marcellus Shale. This dynamic becomes especially relevant to towns in this area – and there are many of them — with no comprehensive plan and nothing on the books specific to fracking.