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New York Localities Make Divergent Moves on Fracking
Elected officials in the Town of Chenango, NY, voted 3-2 to reject a moratorium on local ordinances that, if enacted, would have delayed permitting for oil and natural gas activities, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking), within the Broome County town’s limits.
Meanwhile officials in the Village of Oxford, in neighboring Chenango County, voted 4-1 to amend and supplement the village’s existing zoning ordinances, a clarification that effectively bans oil and gas drilling there.
Chenango Town Supervisor Harold Snopek told NGI’s Shale Daily that Local Law No. 1, which needed a supermajority 4-1 vote to pass on Wednesday, was not a moratorium on drilling.
“It was a moratorium to get our comprehensive plan, road preservation plan and noise ordinance in place, before drilling permits were issued by the Town of Chenango,” Snopek said Friday. “I wanted to get the moratorium off because of lawsuits and also, by the time the DEC [Department of Environmental Conservation] comes out with their recommendations, our moratorium would have been outdated.”
Snopek said progress was being made on the town’s comprehensive plan, but that Broome County officials had rejected their own road preservation plan for reasons that were unknown to him. He said attorneys representing localities throughout Broome County had agreed to meet and ultimately follow whatever road preservation plan was enacted by the county.
“Why have half a dozen different road preservation plans and then require [oil and gas operators] to get permits from all of them?” Snopek asked. “That was the whole purpose of [the meeting]. So now we’re waiting for Broome County to do their road preservation plan. We’ll look at it, see what it is and go from there.”
Asked if the town voted the way they did because of a threat of a lawsuit by property owners, Snopek said, “I have no idea what they were going to do. We’re going to wait and see what the state, the DEC and everybody else does, then go from there.”
Last month the Central New York Landowner’s Coalition (CNY) established a legal fund to fight local bans and moratoriums on fracking (see Shale Daily, Dec. 13, 2012). At the time, CNY had the Village of Oxford in its crosshairs for Local Law No. 2, which called for a nine-month moratorium on natural gas and petroleum exploration and extraction activities, the underground storage of natural gas and the disposal of associated wastes.
But Village of Oxford Planning Board Chairperson Anna Stark told NGI’s Shale Daily that Local Law No. 2 had been tabled and “will probably just run its natural course and not be enacted. It was proposed, but never voted on by the board.”
Instead, Stark said, the village decided to clarify its existing zoning ordinances to effectively ban oil and gas activities. That move began on Dec. 30, 2012, when the village planning board met with three attorneys to discuss the issue.
“Our ordinances are from the 1970s, and the way the ordinances are written, something is prohibited unless it is specifically stated that it is allowed,” Stark said Friday. “The attorneys all said they perceived the wording of the zoning ordinances to say that natural gas drilling was not allowed, but it does not specifically say that.”
Stark said the planning board voted 4-0 Wednesday to amend and supplement its existing zoning ordinances. The village board then followed suit, passing the amendment by a 4-1 vote.
“The amendment that the planning board reviewed, and that the village board passed, simply clarified the existing zoning to say that natural gas drilling was not allowed in the Village of Oxford,” Stark said. “They added a few new definitions and clarified the existing provisions, but there were no additions to the zoning.”
Last summer, officials in the Town of Oxford, which surrounds and includes the Village of Oxford, weighed either a one- or two-year fracking moratorium (see Shale Daily, Aug. 13, 2012).
Broome County is one of five counties that in June 2012 were floated by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration as possible localities that could be open to high volume fracking, provided the Department of Environmental Conservation grants regulatory approval (see Shale Daily, June 14, 2012). Meanwhile, local governments across the state have been choosing sides in the fracking debate (see Shale Daily, June 6, 2012; June 4, 2012; May 22, 2012).
The Town of Middlefield in Otsego County and the Town of Dryden in Tompkins County have also enacted local ordinances that ban fracking. In separate rulings in early 2012, county judges upheld those ordinances (see Shale Daily, Feb. 29, 2012; Feb. 23, 2012). Both cases are nearing appeals (see Shale Daily, Oct. 5, 2012).
The DEC is nearing completion of a supplemental generic environmental impact statement on high-volume hydraulic fracturing. A 30-day public comment period on proposed rules ends on Jan. 11 (see Shale Daily, Jan. 2; Sept. 24, 2012).
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