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Albany, Syracuse Take Divergent Paths Over Fracking Debate

The mayor of Albany, NY, has vetoed an ordinance that would have banned hydraulic fracturing (fracking) within the city limits on the grounds that the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has not finalized its actions over the practice.

Meanwhile, the Common Council of Syracuse, NY, has forged ahead with its own ordinance banning fracking within its city limits.

"It is inappropriate to pass legislation of this type given the fact that DEC has [not] yet had a chance to respond to the public comments received," Albany Mayor Gerald Jennings wrote in a two-page letter announcing his veto to the Albany Common Council on Oct. 27. "While DEC is continuing to accept comments it is premature to take conclusive positions on this issue."

But Jennings added that he believed "there is no land in the city of Albany that could allow for the type of drilling envisioned by this ordinance," a view shared by several council members.

"There is no evidence that Albany would even be impacted by any kind of hydrofracking activity," Bob Van Amburgh, an assistant to Jennings, told NGI's Shale Daily on Tuesday. "But he agreed with [DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens] that the public hearing should occur before people really weigh in one way or the other."

The DEC is in the midst of a 60-day comment period on its proposed rules governing fracking in the state. A revised draft supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS) was issued on the practice in September (see Shale Daily, Sept. 8).

About 150 miles west of Albany, the Syracuse Common Council unanimously adopted a "Natural Gas Exploration and Extraction" ordinance on Oct. 24. The nine-page document outlining the ordinance, also known as Article 10, explicitly prohibits the exploration for or extraction of natural gas, as well as the storage, treatment and disposal of associated waste products, within the city.

"Our land, water, health and heritage must be protected from potentially dangerous impacts of [fracking]," Kathleen Joy, the Syracuse Common Council member who introduced the ban, said in a statement posted on her re-election campaign website. "Until it's proven safe, we must prohibit hydrofracking within our borders."

Thomas West, an attorney for The West Firm PLLC in Albany, NY, told NGI's Shale Daily that he believes the actions taken by both Albany and Syracuse were purely political and doubted that the oil and gas industry would file suit over them.

"I don't think anybody is going to challenge many of these northern municipal actions," West said Tuesday. "The Marcellus and Utica shales are considered to be prospective in the southern part of the state. Once you get up around the New York State Thruway, I don't think anybody believes -- certainly not the Marcellus, and very unlikely that the Utica -- would be viable in those areas. These are really largely political statements being made by the cities. The industry is not interested in challenging ordinances that are passed as political statements if there is no prospective resource in that municipality."

The DEC issued several recommendations on fracking in July, including a ban on the practice in the watersheds of New York City and Syracuse (see Shale Daily, July 5). Those recommendations have since been enshrined in the revised draft supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS) on fracking issued in September (see Shale Daily, Sept. 8). The agency is accepting public comments on the SGEIS through Dec. 12.

Other municipalities in New York that have enacted bans on fracking include the towns of Dryden and Middlefield (see Shale Daily, Sept. 21; Sept. 19). West is representing Anschutz Exploration Corp. in its lawsuit against Dryden.

"Dryden came to fruition because it is one of the southernmost municipalities to take this kind of action, and where one of the operators actually had significant acreage," West said. "That's the fundamental difference."

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