A coalition of New York landowners who support natural gas development came to the state capital on Wednesday to meet elected officials backing their cause and to deliver them a six-point landowners' "declaration of rights."
Dan Fitzsimmons, president of Joint Landowners Coalition of New York Inc. (JLCNY), told supporters in Albany that property owners in the state are responsible people who are looking to create wealth from their land, but want to do it in a way that protects the environment.
"Such rights are well established in New York," Fitzsimmons said. "If you own land you can farm it, you can mine it for gravel, you can harvest the timber, [and] you can build on it consistent with local codes. Today, however, there is a movement to deny people the right to develop their land. People with extreme political agendas want to tell us what we can and cannot do with our land."
Under its declaration, the JLCNY asserts that property owners in New York have the right to:
The group also asserted that local moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) -- such as those enacted by the Town of Middlefield in Otsego County and the Town of Dryden in Tompkins County (see Shale Daily, Feb. 29; Feb. 23) -- were "graying the lines of where and what types of mineral development will be allowed." Both moratoriums are under appeal.
The JLCNY also took issue with the "arbitrary setbacks and excessive regulations [that] serve no public interest," as well as a myriad of regulatory bodies with influence over oil and gas drilling.
"Redundant and overlapping authority among local governments, state officials, and regional or federal bodies has created a scenario in which the absence of clear authority reduces the potential for economic benefits," the group said. "Left unaddressed, the current legal uncertainty in New York will continue to impede safe development and take property rights of landowners."
On setbacks, the JLCNY said "overly restrictive setbacks amount to a taking of private property rights and a ban on development. Where setbacks do not halt development outright, they severely limit landowners' ability to negotiate or dictate the location of well pads on their own property.
"The adoption of any setbacks by state guidelines should include a sunset clause for their expiration after a reasonable period of time with development occurring free of major incidents of contamination."
Fitzsimmons said he and the rest of JLCNY's approximately 70,000 members accept the role the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and other government officials had in creating proper regulatory guidelines.
"But we object to the trampling of landowner rights," Fitzsimmons said. "What we've attempted to do is develop a reasonable and fair declaration of rights. Our request is that everyone involved in the debate consider our perspective."
Two strong supporters of fracking in the Empire State, Sens. Thomas Libous (R-Binghamton) and Thomas O'Mara (R-Big Flats), stood behind Fitzsimmons at the podium. Libous, who also serves as the Senate's deputy majority leader, recently predicted that fracking would ultimately be permitted by the DEC in municipalities that want it (see Shale Daily, April 24).
"Of course we know there are those whose minds are made up when it comes to drilling for natural gas," Fitzsimmons said. "But we hope that the people in state government who will decide this issue will carefully review our declaration. Ultimately we hope those officials will protect our rights."
In July 2008 then-Gov. David Paterson ordered the DEC to complete a supplemental generic environmental impact statement on fracking, effectively placing a moratorium on the practice. DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens has said there was no timetable for a final decision on whether fracking would be approved (see Shale Daily, April 23).