Friday, June 10, 2011

Frack Democracy! Full Speed Ahead

Town of Caroline, Tompkins County NY
Drive south of Ithaca just a few miles and you come to the Town of Caroline. It’s a lovely mix of rolling hills, farms and several small communities. People move here to raise their vegetables and children in a quiet rural environment. They stay because of the community.

But that sense of community may be fracturing. About 55% of the land in the Town of Caroline is leased to gas companies and some residents worry that a minority will rake in economic benefits at the expense of the majority. They are concerned that industrialized drilling could contaminate their water, pollute their air, affect soil and food production, drastically change land use and damage publicly-funded infrastructure.

So over the past few weeks a few of these folks have been walking through their neighborhoods carrying a petition. It’s a simple petition, only 55 words long:  We, the undersigned residents of the Town of Caroline, urge the Town Board to ban gas extraction using high-volume, slickwater, hydraulic fracturing in the Town of Caroline. The methods used and the intensity of industrial development threaten our clean air, clean water, soil, rural landscapes, and health, as well as our social and economic well-being.

Caroline in the fall
More than 900 Caroline residents have already signed the petition - more than three times as many signatures as any other petition drive in the Town has ever gathered, says Bill Podulka. He coordinates the local activist group ROUSE (Residents Opposing Unsafe Shale-Gas Extraction) which is spearheading the petition.

“Momentum to ban gas drilling by local rule has been building across Tompkins County,” says Podulka. “This week the city of Oneonta voted to ban all forms of gas drilling within city limits, and Buffalo has already enacted a similar ban.” Even closer to home both Dryden and Ulysses boards are exploring legal options to draft a fracking ban. 

And that has some Caroline town officials running scared. Two town council members have decided to take preemptive action – they’ve submitted a resolution that would preclude the board from taking any action to consider drafting a local ban.

“Before the petition is presented and before necessary legal research is done,” says Podulka.

Council members Linda Adams and Peter Hoyt co-authored the legislation, and Toby McDonald supports it. Should gas wells be drilled in town, all stand to benefit: Hoyt and McDonald have leased their property to gas companies, and Adams directs the Tompkins Landowner’s Coalition, a group whose sole purpose is to help landowners obtain the best lease possible.

Adams and Hoyt don’t see a problem with their proposed law. They contend that local drilling bans are not permitted because New York State statute preempts local regulation of natural resource mining activities.

But many legal experts dispute this interpretation of the statute. They say that although local regulation of the day-to-day operations of resource extraction is indeed prohibited, there is ample case law to show that outright banning, which falls under local land use determination, is permissible.

Residents are outraged.  “Given that these elected officials all have ties to gas leasing, their action strikes me as a brazen abuse of power to benefit their own self-interests,” says Irene Weiser.

Aerial view of drilling in Colorado
Another explained that this resolution, if passed, “… would severely limit the town’s options in the face of massive industrialized hydraulic fracturing. If this type of industry is encouraged in the rural corners of Caroline,” he says, “the quiet, sweet rolling hills of green with thrushes, peepers, crickets and wild flowers could quickly be replaced with thousands of thundering trucks and hundreds of massively noisy industrial drilling rigs that will destroy the countryside for years to come -- all for the short term financial benefit of only a few. These drilling rigs are massive and industrial; this is not your grand-dad's little gas well sitting quietly out on the back forty.”

Earlier today town supervisor Don Barber commented on the attempt to short-circuit the democratic process. The resolution may be an attempt to stop debate about a frack ban. “But the town board will have that debate,” Barber said. “ The town needs to hear from all its residents before taking a position.”

The Caroline Town Board will hold its public business meeting on Tuesday, June 14, at 7 pm.  Public comments regarding the proposed resolution will begin at 8:15 pm, after the Board considers other matters.

Text Of The Proposed Resolution

Resolution Clarifying the Town of Caroline’s Role Regarding Gas Development Based on Current Environmental Conservation Law

Whereas Ecl 23-0303, section 2 states,  “The provisions of this article shall supersede all  local  laws or ordinances  relating  to  the  regulation of  the oil, gas and solution  mining industries; but shall not supersede local government jurisdiction over local roads or the rights  of  local  governments  under  the  real property tax law”; and

Whereas it is the opinion of our municipal attorney that the State clearly, with intent and purpose, set this scope; therefore be it

Resolved that the Town will not attempt to either encourage or limit gas drilling in the Town of Caroline; and further

Resolved that the Town will exercise its fiduciary responsibility to protect its investments in local roads, primarily through road use agreements; and further

Resolved that the Town through its authority under the Stormwater Law will protect local water supplies from any damaging effects of surface runoff due to gas drilling or any other large scale industrial activity.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent synopsis clearly showing that certain town officials are using their positions for personal gain--a blatant and shameful subversion of ethics and democracy. May right prevail.