Supervisors warned against fracking bans


By David Avitabile

In a contridiction to February's fracking message, Schoharie County supervisors were told Friday that their towns could be hurt if bans or moratoriums are passed.
In February, supervisors were told by an Ithaca attorney that now was the time to pass a moratorium to protect their towns and there would be little downside.
On Friday, Town of Maryland attorney Edward Zaengle told them that passing a ban or moratorium is not really needed in Schoharie County and could hurt towns because of possible legal action.
The state DEC has yet to rule on permitting gas drilling in the state, he said. If towns pass moratoriums and the DEC decides to issues permits, the towns could be challenged in courts.
The town then could be open to the possibility of "enormous damages," Mr. Zaengle said.
The moratoriums, he added, could also not allow landowners to get out of leases they currently have with gas companies. Those leases may be ready to expire.
The towns could then be sued by landowners, he said.
Towns could also be sued for taking a property owner's mineral rights.
"You don't win," Mr. Zaengle said. "It only creates bigger problems."
Mr. Zanegle, who holds degree in geology and represents landowners in lease negotiations with the gas companies, said the laws on gas drilling are not clear and are open to interpretation.
In his opinion, the DEC regulates oil and gas drilling in the state and towns can only pass legislation on roads and taxes.
"It's pretty clear," he said.
While current lawsuits in the towns of Dryden and Middlefield have been settled in county supreme courts, he expects them to be appealed and overturned.
While moratorium advocates say gas drilling laws should follow similar ones to mining extraction, he believes that state laws stating that towns cannot pass laws on oil and gas activity should be followed.
Towns can create zoning laws to regular mining but not gas and drilling, he said.
A supreme court ruled that a town cannot pass a law on drilling in a case involving Envirogas, Mr. Zaengle said. The decision was appealed to the state appellate court, the highest court in the state, and the case was not heard.
The state policy, he added, is to facilitate gas development not to prohibit it.
"How on earth can a town's decision to completely ban oil and gas activity not conflict with or frustrate this stated policy?"
Mr. Zaengle does not see the urgency for towns in Schoharie County to pass bans or moratoriums.
There is unlikely to be drilling here anytime soon, he said.
"I don't see the urgency," he said.
The county is on the outskirts of the Marcellus shale zone and the shale in the county is too close to the surface, which is not good for gas production, Mr. Zaengle said.
"I don't think they'll be knocking down your door in Schoharie County."
If the DEC does issue permits in the county, the towns will be notified, he added.
Supervisors also heard from Tom Shepstone of the Northeast Marcellus Initiative.
While he also feels that drilling is unlikely in the county, he said that bans and moratoriums will have an intergovernmental impact.
Moratoriums, in general, are a bad idea, he said.
It is like "kicking the ball down the road and delaying a decision and then putting yourself into a pressure cooker."
Proponents of bans and moratoriums are trying to spread a political agenda.
"They want to use you as a pawn to build political momentum," he said.
Schoharie County needs jobs and industry and has no growth, he said.
Though fracking may not come to the county, it could come to nearby areas and Schoharie County would get some spillover economic benefits.
"You need it to happen," Mr. Shepstone said.
Some supervisors took exception with Mr. Shepstone's depiction of the county.