Recent NY court ruling on fracking won't impact the Watershed
By Jay Braman Jr.
News spread quickly across New York Monday of the state’s top court’s decision that New York’s towns are able to use zoning laws to ban hydraulic fracturing within their borders, but that news has little impact within the vast New York City Watershed.
In a precedent-setting ruling that could greatly affect the future of shale-gas drilling in New York, the state Court of Appeals ruled 5-2 in favor of the towns of Dryden and Middlefield, which both passed zoning ordinances in 2011 that expressly prohibited gas drilling and fracking within their town lines.
High-volume fracking has been on hold in New York since 2008, when the state launched an environmental review.
According to Tim Cox, the attorney for the Catskill Watershed Corporation, it appears that fracking is slated for banning watershed wide anyways, so Monday’s decision to allow towns to zone the process out has little impact within the boundaries of the New York City Watershed, an area that covers parts of Ulster, Delaware, Greene, Sullivan and Schoharie counties.
Cox said the draft of the New York State fracking rules, published a few years back, are clear.
“Those documents signal the states intent,” he said.
So, although still in draft form as the state awaits the results of a full blown assessment of the health impacts of fracking, now being done by the state Department of Health, it appears that a watershed-wide ban is a certainty.
Depends on DOH
But Cox added that everything depends on what the Health Department comes up with.
“We are all still waiting for the assessment to be completed,” he said.
Eric Goldstein, director of the National Resources Defense Council, has a similar opinion to Cox.
“As for the watershed itself, the State Department of Environmental Conservation recognized, appropriately, in our view, that the health dangers and economic risks of fracking in an unfiltered water supply were significant; therefore, the state’s draft rules proposed that the state’s unfiltered watersheds of New York and Syracuse would be off limits to any future drilling, when/if any drilling program were to begin.”
According to Goldstein, those rules, which would have allowed some fracking in other parts of the state, received a huge number of adverse comments and many significant questions were raised by the public. It was the health questions and concerns, plus new evidence coming in and describing health/environmental problems in other states like Pennsylvania, Texas, and Colorado that prompted the governor to direct State Health to prepare the full-health assessment before any rules would be issued.
“So, from a practical standpoint, it is almost certain that any drilling program, if one advances in New York State, would not allow for fracking within the unfiltered watershed boundaries – either pursuant to the fracking rules New York State would almost certainly issue or as a result of a prohibition that New York City would likely enact.”
More than 150 towns and cities in New York have passed a moratorium on fracking over the past six years.