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Aftershocks of NYS landmark decision on local Fracking bans

However, characterizing the anti-Fracking movement as a NIMBY issue is unfair because Fracking will be in everyone’s backyard.
However, characterizing the anti-Fracking movement as a NIMBY issue is unfair because Fracking will be in everyone’s backyard.
Photo by Frank J. Regan

The New York State Court of Appeals ruling on Home Rule that upholds local Fracking bans in Dryden (Tompkins County) and Middlefield (Otsego County) has made the “170+ fracking bans adopted by NYS municipalities legally incontestable”1. This ruling could embolden other communities to stand up to the Fracking bullying by the oil and gas industries who try to force municipalities and states to drill for more fossil fuels in a time of Climate Change.

The Dryden town supervisor, Mary Ann Sumne, said, “The oil and gas industry tried to bully us into backing down, but we took our fight all the way to New York’s highest court.” She added, “I hope our victory serves as an inspiration to people in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, North Carolina, California and elsewhere who are also trying to do what’s right for their own communities.” (New York Towns Can Prohibit Fracking, State’s Top Court Rules, 6/302014, New York Times)

This ruling certainly is a “countercurrent to the energy revolution happening in other states.”2 Even if Cuomo went ahead and approved Fracking altogether (still in limbo after six years), a carved up state full of local bans will look very unappetizing to an industry that wants it all. But this is not a bad thing. The ‘revolution,’ more like an insane desire to keep digging when we are already in a hole, is not a real revolution. A real revolution would be to move away from historic fossil fuels for energy, which have warmed our atmosphere to new levels, and drive towards 100% renewable energy (wind and solar). In the light of Climate Change, energy options in New York State should not be focused on Fracking in the first place. But it was probably too alluring for the media to hype the Fracking controversy than make a serious investigation of all our energy options in a time of Climate Change. This is to say, there is another revolution that needs to happen: The media needs to adapt to a changing, warming world, and learn to prioritize accordingly.

Critics of the Court of Appeals decision remark that the ruling was not an indictment on the merits of the Fracking industry, as these alleged merits were never mentioned. In their view, the ruling simply upheld New York State’s NIMBY (not in my backyard) attitude, which they see as a real drawback for large industries considering business in New York. Actually, preserving the character of local towns under threat of Fracking is no small matter. Just ask some folks in Pennsylvania being offered money to accept any and all health and quality of life problems introduced since the Fracking industry came to their backyards:

Aggressive Tactic on the Fracking Front A Pennsylvania gas company offers residents cash to buy protection from any claims of harm. For the last eight years, Pennsylvania has been riding the natural gas boom, with companies drilling and fracking thousands of wells across the state. And in a little corner of Washington County, some 20 miles outside of Pittsburgh, EQT Corporation has been busy – drilling close to a dozen new wells on one site. It didn't take long for the residents of Finleyville who lived near the fracking operations to complain – about the noise and air quality, and what they regarded as threats to their health and quality of life. Initially, EQT, one of the largest producers of natural gas in Pennsylvania, tried to allay concerns with promises of noise studies and offers of vouchers so residents could stay in hotels to avoid the noise and fumes. But then, in what experts say was a rare tactic, the company got more aggressive: it offered all of the households along Cardox Road $50,000 in cash if they would agree to release the company from any legal liability, for current operations as well as those to be carried out in the future. It covered potential health problems and property damage, and gave the company blanket protection from any kind of claim over noise, dust, light, smoke, odors, fumes, soot, air pollution or vibrations. (July 2, 2014) ProPublica

However, characterizing the anti-Fracking movement as a NIMBY issue is unfair because Fracking will be in everyone’s backyard. The thousands of folks who spoke against Fracking in their local New York communities (some, like Rochester, not even facing an immediate threat by this secretive form of drilling) raised concerns about health effects, threats to water quality, and the looming impact of Climate Change on everyone.

The greatest aftershock (a shock in a good way) of the new ruling would be if Governor Cuomo placed an absolute ban on Fracking in New York State. If Cuomo doesn’t ban Fracking (a fossil fuel) pretty freaking soon, New York will lose that pretty green hue that every sustainability-conscious governor loves to see on national maps:

What Every Governor Really Believes About Climate Change, In One Handy Map With all the recent talk at the federal level about the EPA’s proposed carbon regulations for new and existing power plants, it’s easy to forget about the executives that have front row seats to cutting American carbon pollution. And though climate deniers run rampant through the halls of Congress, a new analysis from the CAP Action War Room reveals that half of America’s Republican governors agree with the anti-science caucus of Congress. Fifteen out of twenty-nine sitting Republican governors deny climate science despite the overwhelming level of scientific consensus, the enormous cost to taxpayers, and the critical place governors occupy in implementing new limits on carbon pollution. None of the country’s Democratic governors have made public statements denying climate change. This map from the analysis categorizes governors into four groups: green for those who both accept climate science and are taking action to fight climate change; orange for those who either accept or haven’t openly denied climate science, but also have yet to take serious action to address climate change; red for those who have failed to take action or openly rejected to federal safeguards to address climate change, and red with stripes for climate deniers. (July 2, 2014) Think Progress/Climate Progress